Monday, March 30, 2020

Kurtosis, and flattening the curve #Statistics #Analytics #Covid19

Covid 19 has thrown up lots of new concepts that many people will not have heard about before. There has been much mention of "flattening the curve" in the hope that doing so will ease the burden on hospitals with a lesser surge of cases.

Well - there is a name for the shape of a curve: Kurtosis. It is also a descriptive statistic, a value of zero indicates a normal distribution (the middle curve below). Any deviation from this can be measured with kurtosis. A high positive value indicates a peaked, or leptokurtic, curve. A high negative value indicates a flattened, or Platykurtic, curve.

Image Source: ResearchGate.

Increasing the sample size often compresses and narrows the curve, making it more peaked. So part of "flattening the curve" in the current crisis is all about keeping the number of cases down. You can see from above that this results in a wider as well as a flat curve, making the duration longer. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

First Full Week of On-line Classes - How was it?

Phew! Last week was my first ever doing all my classes on-line. Many colleagues have done the same, and from those that I have been in contact with - all seems to have gone well. It is a major achievement for everybody to turn around from delivering classes in lecture theatres and computer laboratories, to a totally on-line environment - all in just one week. Adobe Connect and Microsoft Teams, with a lot of help from Moodle, are the main tools being employed. In a short while, education is being revolutionized - I fervently hope that we do not go back to the way things were, and instead start to make use of more on-line learning and teaching.

Last week flew by, and I'm sure I am not alone in wondering what day it is. It is Sunday afternoon as I write this and I am taking a break from grading assignments. There is no structure to my day any more, so it doesn't seem to matter when I do things. I do have a timetable to adhere to for the next three weeks - so at least there is something regular for me. Going back to 9 to 5 will not be the same again - I certainly feel that I could do a lot more of my work at home. I do miss my colleagues and the chats in the corridor and staff canteen. The College is always buzzing with activity, and I miss this too. As the College has made the decision to finish out the semester on-line, there will be many students that I will not see again, and I am a bit sad about that.

For our 4th year School of Computing students (I have this class for Statistics) this coming week is their last in College. Their world has been turned upside down from just a few weeks ago when they could confidently look forward to a career in IT, to a very uncertain future indeed. I feel for them - I have just two more classes with them. There will be lots of new opportunities as a result of the current crisis - some optimism I hope.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

One of the Lucky Ones #wfh

Being able to work from home is a blessing in the current crisis, and I am one of the lucky ones to be able to continue working (and getting paid to do it!). I am also lucky that where I live, there is fantastic broadband speed. Added to this is the fact that I have been teaching on-line for the past two years. Converting all classes to on-line learning has been relatively straight forward. 

I'm hearing a lot on the radio and from newspapers about efforts by educators everywhere to get classes for their students on-line - not all are as lucky as me. It will be a huge transition for teachers/lecturers at every level to get the School/College academic year completed. Yet when all of this is done, educators everywhere will be tooled up in the latest technology. Pedagogy will be revolutionalized as we all realize that what we have been doing in the classroom for years can be done just as easily and effectively on-line. We will ask questions about the need for students to attend classes in lecture theatres and labs for a small, medium, large, or all parts of a course. As the population grows, and there is a need for more places at schools and colleges - perhaps the solution to shortages is right in front of us?

Will this be the lecture theatre of the future...

My Home Office Set Up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Declining Views - Top Five Countries

The United States, India, Phillipines, UK, and Canada account for 60.9% of all views this year on my YouTube Channel. As I posted yesterday, there is a sharp decline visible in the number of views over the past two weeks - and I was quite surprised by this. Could it be related to the Covid 19 crisis? 

I decided to dig a little deeper into the decline in views by Geography, and was surprised to find that the decline started earlier than I had thought. In the chart below from YouTube Analytics, you can see the peak views for the blue line (USA, 24.4% of views) was in mid February:

Click/tap image to enlarge.

From mid February there is a gradual decline by week - almost halving the number of views for the US. The green line (India, 18.5% of views) doesn't start to decline until mid March - but is dropping now too.

I have no insight into why this is happening - there are many possiblilites. Obviously, people could simply be choosing not to view my videos anymore, YouTube may have made modifications to the algorithms that recommend videos, I still have a warning on my channel for violation of terms, and some of my videos are getting quite old now. One thing that I feel may be a reason is that all over the world Colleges are dropping exams and replacing them with assignments/projects. Suddenly the requirement to perform something like a t-Test and many other calculations during a two hour period in an exam hall no longer exists. I know from comments in the channel that many students use my videos to prepare for exams - this pressure is now gone.

Whatever the reason, I hope that the channel can bounce back. It is ironic that the number of views for my existing on-line material is declining when at the same time I am switching all my classes to the on-line environment.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sudden Fall Off in YouTube Views

I'm sure that there are many side effects of the Covid 19 crisis, and one for me is the rapid decline of YouTube views last week. Usually there is a gradual increase each week from the beginning of January up to month of May before dropping off slighly for the summer. The overall performance of the channel this year has been less than last year, but the regular patterns of weekly views and gradual increase was maintained. Until last week.

The chart below of views since 1st January. The gradual weekly increase reversed slightly two weeks ago, but last week it dropped by an average of about 2,000 views per day. I did not expect this at all, in fact I would have expected views to increase. More details tomorrow on the geographic breakdown of the data below.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Reading Week Relief

Never was a week free of classes so welcome. Even though our St Patrick’s Day is more like a Doomsday, it too is a welcome break for everyone in Ireland - for one day at least we don’t have to worry about going to work.

Reading week offers students an opportunity to draw breath after 8 weeks in a busy semester. We have another Reading week after Easter - more welcome relief before the last week of the semester. It is a time for students to work on assignments, catch up on essential reading, study for exams, meet with project supervisors, and revise. For Faculty it is also a welcome break from class - most of the time during Reading week spent by me is on grading assignments.

For many students, study at College will be the last thing on their minds, or at least it will be way down their list of priorities right now. While it might be tempting to give up and drop out, I would encourage students to hold fast and finish out the semester as we are so close to the end. Many students may be considering deferring completion, and Colleges everywhere will have to consider this possibility and allow it. Many Colleges are in the midst of replacing exams with projects/assignments - this should make it easier for students to complete their studies.

Image Source: Reddit.
Most third-level institutions can continue to function using virtual classrooms - next week all my classes will be conducted through Adobe Connect virtual classroom software. This facility is not available to all Lecturers. Some colleagues are planning to record lectures, others plan to use voice-over PowerPoints, some will use Microsoft Teams, while I’m sure that many will not be in a position to provide a technical solution due to broadband/home computer issues, as well as lack of knowledge/training on how on-line classrooms work. It will not be easy for everyone to switch from a lifetime of standing in front of students in a lecture theatre, to suddenly switch to on-line delivery.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Making the Switch

This morning I had my first on-line class in a module that is usually delivered in a classroom. Attendance was excellent, and all students who tuned in were able to see and hear what I was doing. I used the familiar Adobe Connect and all its feature - my students seemed happy enough at the end of class. My five year old home computer stood up to the task very well.

The College closed at 18:00 yesterday, but some quick-off-the mark lecturers were in a position to deliver their regular classes online at 18:30. I will be moving all classes online for the remainder of the closure, which I predict will be extended into at least after Easter. I also attended a training session this morning on the use of Microsoft Meetings. While it seems like an excellent tool, I'm sticking to Adobe Connect. At minimum, we are advised to make sure all learning resources are added to Moodle and to be available during class time for questions.

So that's the first day of the closure over. We have a Reading Week next week, so no classes anyway. But I'm confident that I can continue the week after on-line when classes resume. It will be an interesting research topic for when this is all over to see how College closures impact on learning and teaching.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Covid-19 - a Breakthrough for Technology in Education? #CoronaVirus

There is already a lot of Technology in education - we have become so reliant on it that most of us can no longer envisage learning without some kind of technology in the classroom. Despite some setbacks (eg, see: Co Meath school to reverse iPads-only policy after review), students everywhere are using their computers for learning. There's no going back on this.

With some Schools and Colleges already closed, and I'm certain - more to follow, the use of technology to replace face-to-face classrooms is on the agenda as we struggle to contain the Covid-19 virus. I'll only comment on the third level sector, as this is where I work. We of course use the likes of Moodle and Blackboard to manage content such as lecture notes, sample assessments, exercises, model answers, and links to relevant on-line material. But lecturers everywhere are wondering about or asking questions about virtual classrooms and how to use them. Since I already teach one of my modules on-line - I feel that I could easily move my other modules on-line for the rest of the semester. I may have to make different arrangements for students who do not have broadband access, but this may not be the problem it once was. I use Adobe Connect, which is excellent for on-line delivery of a class. A warning to others thinking that just because an old guy like me can do it, how tough can it be! Also a warning to educational institutions' management who think that moving everything on-line is the solution to the current crisis.

It is two years since my first on-line class and I am still learning the trade. From a Learning and Teaching point of view, it is a very different environment than the classroom. Way back in 2003, Morten Flate Paulsen*, Professor at Sør-Trøndelag University College in Norway, was one of the first scholars to research the distinction between on-line and classroom education. A simple summary of what he wrote to compare the two types of education:

Classroom Education:
  • Controlled by “bell”
  • Boundaries are socially accepted

On-line Education:
  • 24 x 7 x 365
  • More demand from students
  • Heavier workload for on-line teachers

In short, on-line education has a heavier workload than the classroom equivalent. Paulsen proposed the following strategies to reduce teacher workload in on-line education:
  1. Form a group of experienced and well-trained teachers
  2. Establish a system for technical and administrative support
  3. Shift attention from spontaneous interactive teaching to deliberate course design
  4. Pay special attention to the assessment workload per student when designing course assignments
  5. Restrict teacher interaction with individual students and small groups of students
  6. Encourage and facilitate interaction among students
  7. Automate response
  8. Develop a scheme to handle the demand for expedient responses
Sound advice indeed! However, we have to consider that we are two thirds of the way thought the last semester of the academic year and there is not the time, resource, or knowledge to implement above (written 17 years ago). We are also in the middle of a crisis (though not all education authorities see this yet) and we must put our students' learning first. Most will be understanding of the difficulties Colleges will encounter, and be sympathetic of our efforts to finish courses. But many (if not all) are already concerned about finishing modules and sitting exams. They are waiting.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

* Paulsen, M.F., (2003). Online education: Learning management systems - Global E-Learning in a Scandinavian Perspective.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Moving Lectures On-line #Covid19

News today that Trinity College are to move all lectures to on-line delivery (see "Trinity cancels lectures in bid to limit coronavirus threat" seems like a very sensible move given the threat of the Covid 19 spreading to Staff and Students. Other Colleges have  yet to follow suit - I feel that it is inevitable that lecture theatres will have to close, and a question placed over other large gatherings such exams and graduations. Already, both ourselves (NCI) and DCU have cancelled Graduation ceremonies due to be held next week. 

So - will transferring all classes to an on-line virtual classroom work? We are only four weeks away from the end of the academic year - should we do it?

For me I think I could cope quite well as approximately 25% of my teaching is done on-line already - so I am familiar with the technology. Some content and class dynamics will need adjustment, but as we are well in to the second half of the semester - this should not be a huge workload. I find that transferring a lecture which involves simply reading slides (already a major bad teaching strategy), to reading them online will not work and will definitely not engage students. Anyone who thinks that delivering a class on-line is the same as in a lecture theatre has not thought this through. Many Faculty who have never delivered a class on-line (the vast majority of Faculty in my view), will naturally be concerned about how this works and the effect it will have students' learning. It is better than no classes, and in most cases Colleges will have to make do with what they've got - I'm certain that students will be understanding if this all happens. These are difficult times, and we in the Education sector have to do our bit in the fight against this virus.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

TV Licence costs over the years #TimeSeries #Data

I got my bill the TV Licence today - €160 for the year is not cheap, but I pay it anyway. It got me thinking about how much this fee tax has cost me over the years. In 1986 when Roma and I first moved into a house together and got our first TV Licence bill, we decided to pay it. It was just as well because shortly afterwards we got the dreaded knock on the door from a TV Licence inspector. Luckily we were able to show our newly acquired licence. In the 34 years since we have not been visited by any more inspectors.

In 1986, the licence fee was £62.00 (€78.74). You can see below the trend in cost over the years:

Data source: Wikipedia.

We can also see that there were periods of stagnation over many years - the fee tax has been €160 since 2008. By my calculation I have paid a whopping €4,371.30 for a TV licence since 1986. of course this is after tax, so I would have had to earn around €6k/€7k to pay this. Is it worth it? 

The licence is free to those who are 70 or over - just 10 more years to go for me (and another €1,600 or more).