Friday, August 28, 2020

Proposal: Make the 2020/2021 Academic Year Online Only

The more I think about it, the more I feel that the coming academic year should be declared entirely online. No uncertainty, no doubts, no health risks, and of course - no need for physical classrooms. Students are still wondering if they'll need accommodation, or if they will have to book a B&B for their once in a month appearance in College. Others worry about the risk to their health and might not want to attend a class. If Colleges are recording classes anyway - why bother turning up? 

What about the academics?

An article in last Saturday's Guardian newspaper "UK universities' promise of face-to-face teaching is risking academics' health" points out many downsides to students not returning to College, including the "financial basket cases" that UK universities and colleges are in compared to their wealthier American counterparts who can afford to ride out the Covid-19 storm. The article makes the obvious point that "online teaching involves absolutely no risk of catching Covid". Why would universities and colleges put older (60+ like me) academics at risk when there is a risk-free online alternative? For a brief few weeks in March and April colleges everywhere showed that online teaching could be done. Starting the next academic year off online and/or blended learning is fine - we have no choice. But the rest of the year is still in doubt - today, Trinity College's website states that a "decision on the second semester will be taken closer to the time". 

With no sign that the virus is going away, or that a vaccine will be widely available by the end of this year - we should make the decision now to go fully online as much as possible for the entire academic year.

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

Monday, August 24, 2020

Want to study for free at NCI?

Check out this great video from NCI featuring my colleagues Orla O'Sullivan and Sam Cogan telling us about studying in NCI on our Springboard courses. Some programmes, like Data Analytics, are filling up fast - so if you are interested in gaining a new skill, now is the time to act. Our next Open Day (which will be on-line) is this Saturday (29th August). I will be on duty to answer your questions - so see you there!

Monday, August 17, 2020

90% of Data is Crap? #analytics

In a recent book "World Wide Waste" by Gerry McGovern, he tells us that up to "90% of digital data is not used" and that we " and then don’t use" our data. He cites quite a lot of sources to base this information on:
  • Around 90% of data is never accessed three months after it is first stored, according to Tech Target. 
  • 80% of all digital data is never accessed or used again after it is stored, according to a 2018 report by Active Archive Alliance.
  • Businesses typically only analyze around 10% of the data they collect, according to search technology specialist Lucidworks. 
  • 90% of unstructured data is never analyzed, according to IDC.
  • 90% of all sensor data collected from Internet of Things devices is never used, according to IBM

McGovern goes on to say: "Cheap storage combined with cheap processing power made the World Wide Web the World Wide Waste" and that the "Web is an ocean full of crap". I don't disagree with this. My own Google Drive right now has 192,178 files, 19,853 folders, and takes up 360,216,594,133 bytes - I have no idea what all this "crap" is!

This 90% figure is based on Sturgeon's Law, which states that "ninety percent of everything is crap", and is also similar to the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule ("80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes"). I'm sure everyone can think of situations where this applies, and it is no surprise that data is similarly regarded.

So if 90% is "crap", 10% is therefore useful. But the key thing here is how to identify the useful 10%? This is where we need skilled data scientists and analysts posing the right questions and using the right tools to find value in data. Learning how to prioritise the 10% is not easy, but it starts with questions. If 90% of your sales come from 10% of your customers - do you know who the customers are who make up the 10%? 

Asking a question is easy, but asking the right question is not.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Afraid to go back to work? #Over60s

Older people with underlying conditions appear to be the most vulnerable to dying if they catch the Covid-19 virus - younger people are less affected. Take a look at the data example below from May 13th in New York city:

Data Source: worldometer.

So, if you are in the 46-64 years old age group (as I am), you are over four times more likely to die than someone in the 18-44 years old group if you catch Covid-19. This makes me fearful for any teacher/lecturer going back to classes where most students are a lot younger. For teachers going back to primary/secondary schools - the gap is even bigger. But like nurses and doctors going into work in a hospital - it has to be done. Or does it?

The new school year is only a couple of weeks away, and another five weeks to third level Colleges opening up. While Colleges seem to be ready for on-line classes, our Government is prioritising school opening. Today is the 11th August, and three counties are back in lockdown - how can schools reopen in these areas? Or those beside them? I fear we will see further disruption to schools.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Phased Return to Campus

Several weeks ago when it was announced that the NCI Campus would reopen on a phased basis from 10th August, it seemed so far away. I have not been in the College since the middle of March, and have no plans to go there for at least the rest of this month. My summer holidays are over, but I am continuing to work from home. Yes - like everyone else, I miss my colleagues and the normality of being in an office. August would have been a relatively quiet time in the College Campus. Repeat exams would have been taking place, but the numbers of students in the building would have been small anyway.
It has been a strange realization that we can continue to work for almost five months without seeing colleagues and students. In a way, the timing of the Covid 19 arrival in Ireland and subsequent lockdown was suitable! Only a few weeks of classes were disrupted at the end of Semester II, and we have had a long lead in to the new academic year. I'm beginning to wonder if I will return to the office at all?

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Back to Work #wfh

After a couple of weeks break, I am now "back" to work, but working from home. It's a strange feeling not to be riding into the College in Dublin City Centre this morning trying to see what has changed on the street landscapes since before my holidays. Though NCI is opening its campus next Monday, I have no plans to go there in the next few weeks - I will continue to work from my home office.

The Government has published guidelines for third-level institutions today. Shauna Bowers writes in today's Irish Times that Students to wear face coverings in lectures where two metre distance not possible. She also reports that "In the event that tuition requires the staff member to be less than two metres from students, the staff member should wear face shields, visors or other protective equipment which will be provided by the college or university", and that class sizes be restricted to just 50 students. All of this makes perfect sense from a public health point of view, though NCI is way ahead with plans for opening the campus next Monday:

But will there be any students? Most classes are going to be on-line in semester I - both Lecturers and students will be at home for class. Some Colleges are planning to provide classes both on-line and live in the classroom - I wonder how well that will go down with the unions? Is it practical? Is is necessary? Who is going to come to the College campus when classes are also on-line? We showed at the end of the last academic year, and with courses running over the summer, that everything is possible on-line. True - many students might prefer to study in the library, but with more ebooks available, this too seems to be a bit old-fashioned. 

It is my view now that physical classroom space in a College campus is no longer necessary. It is possible or even probable that students feel the same. No one thought a few years ago that the likes of Tinder and Bumble would replace the pub or disco as a place to meet someone - yet it seems to be very normal now. It is not that long ago that it would have been unusual for a student to bring a computer to College - now they almost all do. An true education revolution has taken place over the past few months, and Colleges will struggle to justify the existence of their old-fashioned lecture halls and classrooms. 

There should be no going back.