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Alas alas alas, this blog’s been neglected this last while.  Such are the demands on me at the moment (and the time taken up with Twitter!).  Anyhow, for the extra hour, the holiday weekend, the Halloween sound-effects that prohibit any work requiring concentration, and the current catch-up with http://9thlevel.ie, a post is forthcoming.

Here are some Ninth Level contributions of late:

  • http://www.collegetribune.ie/index.php/2011/10/stopfees/  Apparently €5,000 is an annual fees figure that is being thrown around.  Hmmm. My humble opinion is that if students genuinely want to go to third level education they will find a way to do so, regardless of cost.  Paying one’s own fees  has a way of focusing the mind in a way that freebies do not.
  • http://trinitynews.ie/wordpress/archives/3222   So that’s the guy’s whose visage is gracing the entrance to TCD over the last while!
  • http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=417915&c=1  The University of Cambridge and research as “inherent to the very fibre of a university” calls for putting research back into the heart of the system.  The rift between the economic and intellectual research comes to the fore once again.  No prizes for guessing which side I am on.
  • http://ciarnthelibrarian.blogspot.com/2011/10/college-students-social-networking.html   A study of undergraduates use of social media is under the spotlight.  Their use of Facebook is taken alongside other typical “identity markers of emerging adulthood”.  I wonder what that means for the use of Facebook for older people, and how the current 18-year-olds’ use of Facebook will evolve in years to come.
  • http://www.good.is/post/if-professors-stop-lecturing-will-students-stop-checking-facebook/    Apparently, Facebook use in Harvard classes “has become so ubiquitous that no one even questions it”—not even professors.  Yikes!  The reasoning given is that lectures are boring, the lecturer repeats him/herself too often, and the lecture content is irrelevant because “much of knowledge has become commoditized on the web”.  Now, this is one more reason to flip the classroom / nonclassroom activity structure.  That is, the lectures can be put online for students to peruse in their own time. Then, classroom space and time can be freed up for discussion, and practical applications of concepts, software etc.  This is, of course, far more demanding on the cognitive abilities of students and there is the concern that many will not be able for it.  Whatever, it’s more constructive than students Facebooking their way through class.  I’m not against Facebook per se but students facebooking their new hairdos and night-out socialising is not the way to spend classroom time.
  • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/8843640/Tradition-of-Oxbridge-free-Masters-degrees-under-fire.html   It seems that some universities, (Oxbridge is singled out) bundle a BA with an MA.  The idea is that the student studies for and achieves their BA and are automatically awarded an MA to go along with it.  I am in total agreement with the author that this devalues the work of the many many postgraduates taking MA qualifications at other universities.  It makes one wonder what exactly a Masters qualification is.  What is the transition point from undergraduate to postgraduate?
  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/21/bad-science-publishing-claims   Prof Susan Greenfield is being her usual controversial self.  Her latest is that computer games could cause dementia in children.  Now, to be fair, I like to keep an open mind about scientific findings.  Unfortunately, Prof Greenfield tends to make this difficult.  As a result, I find myself thinking ‘here we go again’ when her latest research emerges.  Besides, think about it – how many children do you know who play (or have played in the past i.e. children who are now adults) computer games?  How many of those suffer from dementia?
  • http://limerick.studenty.me/2011/10/22/is-ul-really-the-hardest-irish-university-to-obtain-the-magic-21-degree-from/   Here’s a quote from the study (carried out by the Irish Times): “Fourteen per cent of its (UL) graduates gained first-class honours, while 34 per cent achieved a 2:1. This 2:1 rate is by far the lowest in the country, a full 19 per cent behind the highest, which is TCD, and 9 per cent below the national average”.  Flash back to the later part of the last century when I was a graduate of that same institution (UL).  There were approximately 200 of us business graduates.  5 achieved a first class honours.  That’s 2.5%.  Enough said.

I’ve been watching Eurovision for approx.30 years (giving away my age here), and yes it has changed over the years.  If it hadn’t moved with the times, would we all stop watching it – yes, that includes you too.

Eurovision is one of those strange phenomena that some of us in this country (and the UK also) like to be rather snooty and superiour towards.  Why? Are we bad losers and rubbish a competition unless we perform well in it?   Is our range of musical tastes so narrow we can’t appreciate something different?  Do we have issues with Eastern Europe?  Do we…………..?  Can we not just get over ourselves and enjoy the Eurovision?

Eurovision has become more than just a song contest.  In my view, there are three aspects required for a successful entry – the song, the singer, and the performance presentation on the night.  All three have to be working well for an entry to do well.  When we insulted Europe and ourselves by sending Dustin the Turkey we scored zero points on all three.  If we send rubbish why are we expecting gold?  Watching the national finals this year, our entrant had a reasonable song, poor-ish singers but singers who could be relied on to present a good showing on the stage.  What happened in the Dusseldorf semis on Thursday night – Jedward pulled off a surprisingly good job on the singing (good on them, I felt rather proud of them), and their stage presentation was excellent (kudos to the designer of the electronic backdrop, by the way).  The odds on Ireland shortened considerably.

A thing that I love about the Eurovision is the variety of genres on show.  A winner needs to be the best representation of its genre in each of the three aspects above.  Whether a given viewer likes a particular genre or not is irrelevant given the sheer size of the audience numbers watching. There is an audience for just about everything.  Take Lordi (representing Finland a short number of years back) – they, their song and their stage presentation were excellent in the hard rock genre.  To the non-hard rock brigade anything in this category sounds like pre-historic monsters growing at each other. Does this matter?  No.  There were enough supporters of this category to appreciate what Lordi had to offer.  With only minor exceptions, this has been a consistent feature of Eurovision over the years.  The best song, singer, performance representative of a particular genre comes out on top.

This year, the French have sent a song and singer in the classical-pop cross-over genre.  Anyone, having a gander through my ipod is in no doubt as to where my taste in music is.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGfxvasqqVE&feature=related has been played several times on this laptop.  In my mind, the French entry is head and shoulders over everything else I have heard.  Admittedly, I haven’t seen the entrants from the first semi. Nor have a I heard the Italian, German or Spanish entries. I have no idea how the French will present on the stage tonight.   Nonetheless, from what I have heard, my top 5 are: France, Ireland, Austria, UK, Sweden.

Now, whose commentary do I listen to – Mary Whelan or Graham Norton?  Decisions Decisions!

No, I can’t remember mine either.  Granted, the points systems worked on a different grading system back then, and while there was a “points race” it was nothing like it is now.  Somehow, over the years what should be a fair, objective and all-equal HE entry mechanism of separating the academically deserving from the not-so-deserving seems to have veered off course.

Now, our new Minister for Education wants rid of the points system.

No-one will question the decision.  However, the obvious question is what he will replace it with.  Here’s where our crafty Minister shows his power of delegation.  Instead of getting the thinking-caps of the department of education onto the job, he’s put the task to the university heads to sit down together and trash out an alternative. And they have until September to come up with a solution – a tall order indeed?  The solution even has to be solid, that’s nothing “wishy washy” now.  The solution has to be realistic, solid, workable with all strands working together.

The plus side is that the universities have been given power on a plate to design, develop and implement a system they would like.  The problem is what it might possibly look like.

  • Should it have formal end-of-year exams?
  • Should it have more continuous-assessment (CA) through-out the year?
  • Who sets, approves and grades this CA?
  • There is a call for more thinking and analytical skills. What is the best way to teach and assess this?
  • Should Leaving Cert students have more of a say in their assessment and curriculum?
  • Should Irish remain a compulsory subject?
  • Is the concept of splitting content into “subjects” old-fashioned?
  • How might extra-curricular activities be incorporated into the mix?
  • How might the role of the teacher change with a new system?
  • What impact might there be on physical (or other) resources (individual recyclable science kits anyone?) and who will fund them

I am curious as to the university heads come up with, and how they will implement it. Exciting times are ahead.

We are all only too well aware of the problem of student focus.  The teacher turns her back for two seconds and at least one student is taking a peek at Facebook, or Youtube, or something else they shouldn’t be looking at.

The question – what do you do about it?

Apparently, you do not close down the laptop screen while the student is in mid-surf.  You might get arrested, suspended and find yourself on the receiving end of a battering case.  This is what happened to a lecturer in Valdosta State University in Georgia recently. I accidently slammed a laptop shut quite hard on my fingers (purely by accident of course, and now I cannot for the life of me remember why!) a number of years ago.  Both laptop and fingers survived undamaged. I imagine it would take some severe force indeed to cause injury to either.

Student inattention and self-distraction is a problem that is not going away.  Stories like the one in Georgia don’t help.  They just add to the frustrations of the problem.

There is increasing evidence that our young folk are experiencing addiction problems with their technology devices.  Headlines such as” Facebook generation suffer information withdrawal syndrome” and “Student ‘addiction’ to technology ‘similar to drug cravings” are frightening but need to considered and acted upon.  Students are reported as “having withdrawal symptoms, overeating, feeling nervous, isolated and disconnected, they don’t know what to with themselves or their time” when they are deprived of their technology in the “Unplugged: living without the media” study currently underway. The action of the student, reaction of the lecturer, and subsequent reaction of student in Georgia doesn’t seem quite so strange now.

Plenty of suggestions are given of alternative courses of action.  Examples suggested by commenters on the students’ behalf include: don’t be so rude in a classroom, don’t take the laptop to class, or don’t take yourself to class if you plan to play on your laptop right through it.  This is all good advice but unlikely to be taken up by a student who simply cannot resist the temptation to sneak a peek at that Facebook.

For the lecture, advice seems to follow on practical terms e.g. “the student should be asked to desist, asked to leave the lecture theatre if they won’t desist – but if they refuse to do even this, then it wouldn’t be fair to the other students to disrupt the lecture further – so a formal verbal warning should be issued, and from then on, a formal disciplinary process should be commenced”.  The commentator then goes on to say that very few universities are likely to have such a formal system in place. There is no mention either of what to do there and then when the student refuses to leave the room and refuses to un-facebook.

Another commenter laments the banning of internet connectivity in the classroom, suggesting that the lecturer integrate laptop usage into their lesson plans.  The commenter goes to say that s/he has “established a back channel chat room in which students can discuss the class or anything else for that matter during the course discussion. This keeps them from going on Facebook and focuses them at least marginally on the business at hand”.  Hmmmm, one wonders about the “marginally” and what the “anything else” is.  Integration of the social tools so beloved of our students is not easily integrated into every facet of classroom teaching.  While I like the idea of the back channel, it is difficult to see how it solves the problem.

What, then, is the solution?

Do we need yet another label to slap on students?  No!

Do we want to ban technology from the classroom? No!

Do we simply ignore the student(s) who Facebook their way through class? No!

Do we bar the Facebooking student from ever sitting in class again until they mend their ways? No! (we might be kept waiting some time for them to return)

Do we have individual lesson plans for each student so they cannot claim to be bored or that the teacher is moving too slow / fast for them? No! (how many students do you have, on average, in your classes?)

Do we…………….

It’s Sunday night, I’m back to watching the golf.

The #tcdprovost campaign comes to an end tomorrow as the academics of #tcd meet to elect a leader to take them through the tough times ahead.  This is an event that occurs every ten years, and this is the first time I have had an interest – something to do with being a PhD student in that fine institution.

The whole election has been a strange one to me as a postgraduate.  I am a part-time student and cannot physically attend many Provost campaign events.  The final hustings on Wednesday night was the first event I could attend.  As such, I am very reliant on internet communications.  I am likely to learn little of a candidate if they chose not to tweet or engage in website communications.  A quick Google search shows there has been large variation among the candidates in this area.

PGs have a lowly weighted say in the election but the organisation of this was so poor it meant nothing.

  • We were told in an email by the GSU that we could vote for the candidates at such a time and place the following week.  This was very early in the election period and most people were still concerned with the general election (#ge11).  We were given almost no info on the candidates, nor many pointers as to where we might find any.  Most students had little insight into the candidates at that point and many including yours truly (I am ashamed to say) ended up not voting.
  • The candidates did try to send us manifestos and other documentation to inform us of their priorities …. until they were inexplicably informed not to by the GSU.  Why, oh why, did the GSU think it was in our interests not to engage with this election?
  • The University Times made approaches to take the GSU to task over their behaviour.  There was criticism of GSU personnel favouriting a particular candidate when they, of course, should be neutral.
  • The GSU personnel have 4 votes of their own which they can use at they wish i.e. they are not under an obligation to follow the preferences of the students they are purporting to represent.  This is a bizarre arrangement to say the least.
  • The GSU say they received few if any complaints.  Perhaps this is the case.  I discovered earlier this academic year on an unrelated matter how futile complaining to the current GSU is.

Back to the election – the final hustings on Wednesday night was my first opportunity to see and listen to all the candidates together up close.  It was an interesting experience.  I was more than impressed at how civilised and professional it all was.  There was no verbal punching among the contestants, there was no overt refutations of each other’s points, there seemed to be much mutual respect.  It made for an interesting and informative evening.

Jane Ohlmeyer and Colm Kearney seemed to me the most impressive candidates.  I was particularly taken by Jane’s strength of character, leadership, vision, and sheer enthusiasm for the job.  She strikes me as someone who is skilled and able in terms of large-scale fund-raising for the college through Government and more importantly non-Governmental (international) sources.

Now the end is nigh and it is likely most of the academics voting tomorrow have decided on their preference list.  May the best candidate win.

Do you / should you recognise use of Wikipedia as a source of content for student research projects?

For years, the answer was an overwhelming ‘no’.  It’s open-edit nature meant that it simply had too many inaccuracies and gaps in explanations and meaning.  Lines such as “This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations” or “This article needs references that appear in reliable third-party publications” don’t usually inspire confidence. 

Nonetheless, the fact remains – students use Wikipedia for their research and lecturers telling them not to is not a deterrent to their Wikipedia usage.  Now, with Wikipedia with us for a decade is it time to change our approach.

When asked by students I have suggested that Wikipedia is a useful source and starting-point for ideas and brain-storming.  The vast number of hyper-links available is particularly useful for chasing a train of thought. Some articles have extensive reference lists (many are reputable) that can be worth sourcing.   Having an army of editors to point out that a page needs references or is incomplete is warning itself to users that a page cannot be taken too seriously but yet might be worth exploring.  Using Wikipedia as a starting point in exploring concepts and ideas might cause students to return to the page later and suggest the appropriate edits that are needed.

Wikipedia has come a long way in its 10 years.  Now it has a range of useful features including an “in the news” and an “on this day” sections covering the latest world news stories and a list of historic (modern and not-so-modern) events that happened on this date in previous years.  It also has a range of sister wiki projects, some of which are most impressive indeed.  The following are worth a look:

  • Wiki Commons – a multimedia collection
  • Wikionary – an online dictionary covering 400+ languages
  • Wiki Quote – a selection of quotes from a variety of sources
  • Wiki Books – completed and work-in-progress, a great way for budding authors to get published and received feedback on their progress to date
  • Wiki Species – for those with an interest in flora and fauna
  • Wiki News – along with the latest world stories there is a chat facility to interactively comment on these stories
  • Meta-Wiki – a community space for contributors and anyone else to talk about Wikipedia itself
  • Wikiversity – a selections of learning tools and materials, comes with the by-line “set learning free”, part of the growing trend to freely distribute classroom content, also provides community space for educators to collect and interact

It would appear that the perspective of Wikipedia as a collection of unreliable and ill-considered content is a thing of the past.  However, it’s not quite formal, high-ranking academic peer-reviewed journal status either.

Nonetheless, Wikipedia seems to have an important role in providing content to think about – surely an important feature of any educational program.

 

Oh dear! If this is tweet is really true than the FG spokesperson needs a reality check. I for one most certainly do not have too much time on my hands.  I don’t have time to read a newspaper from cover to cover every day, I don’t listen to radio (the joys of not driving to and from work), and living in an apartment I don’t have canvassers called. I am limited to flyers-through-the-door, television and internet to inform myself about who to vote for on Friday.  At that, very few candidates will feature prominently on television.

I live in the Dublin South Central electoral area. Let’s see what the candidates are revealing about themselves and their policies:

Who? www.thejournal.ie Ranking for visibility on the web http://td2011.com/ Social Media usage
Neville Bradley, Independent Profile views: 838 

Likes: 5

Dislikes: 6

Overall: 531st 

Constituency: 16th

Twitter: @votebradley 

Facebook: Yes

Blog:

Colm Brophy, 

Fine Gael

Profile views: 402 

Likes: 5

Dislikes: 3

Overall: 465th 

Constituency:13th

Twitter: @brophytalks 

Facebook: Yes

Blog/Web: http://www.colmbrophy.ie/

Catherine Byrne, 

Fine Gael

Profile views: 376 

Likes: 5

Dislikes: 11

Overall: 172nd 

Constituency: 3rd

Twitter: 

Facebook: Yes

Blog:

Eric Byrne, Labour Profile views: 415 

Likes: 7

Dislikes: 4

Overall: 289th 

Constituency: 6th

Twitter: @CllrEricByrne 

Facebook:

Blog/Web: http://www.ericbyrne.ie/

Colm Callanan, 

Christian Solidarity Party

Profile views: 473 

Likes: 7

Dislikes: 21

Overall: 409th 

Constituency: 8th

Twitter: 

Facebook:

Blog:

Joan Collins, 

People Before Profit

Profile views: 556 

Likes: 23

Dislikes: 11

Overall: 68th 

Constituency: 2nd

Twitter: @CllrJoanCollins 

Facebook: Yes

Blog: http://joan-collins.org/

Michael Conaghan, 

Labour

Profile views: 403 

Likes: 7

Dislikes: 1

Overall: 186th 

Constituency: 4th

Twitter: 

Facebook:

Blog:

Seán Connolly Farrell, 

Independent

Profile views: 591 

Likes: 2

Dislikes: 4

Overall: 528th 

Constituency:15th

Twitter: 

Facebook:

Blog:

Noel Francis Bennett, 

Independent

Profile views: 585 

Likes: 6

Dislikes: 4

Overall: 563rd 

Constituency: 18th

Twitter: 

Facebook:

Blog:

Gerry Kelly, 

Independent

Profile views: 1130 

Likes:11

Dislikes: 0

Overall: 457th 

Constituency:12th

Twitter: @VoteGerryKelly 

Facebook:

Blog: http://votegerrykelly.wordpress.com/

Paul King,
 

Independent

Profile views: 649 

Likes: 4

Dislikes: 5

Overall: 515th 

Constituency: 14th

Twitter: 

Facebook:

Blog:

Ruairi McGinley, 

Fine Gael

Profile views: 376 

Likes: 4

Dislikes: 4

Overall: 447th 

Constituency: 11th

Twitter: @ruairimcginley 

Facebook: Yes

Blog/web: http://ruairimcginley.cllr.ie/

Dominic Mooney, 

Independent

Profile views: 599 

Likes: 3

Dislikes: 8

Overall: 553rd 

Constituency: 17th

Twitter: 

Facebook:

Blog:

Michael Mulcahy, 

Fianna Fáil

Profile views: 269 

Likes: 6

Dislikes: 20

Overall: 203rd 

Constituency: 5th

Twitter: 

Facebook: Yes

Blog:

Oisín Ó hAlmhain,  

Green Party

Profile views: 620 

Likes: 13

Dislikes: 4

Overall: 434th 

Constituency: 9th

Twitter: @oisinohalmhain 

Facebook: yes

Blog:

http://www.real-dublin.ie/

Aengus Ó Snodaigh, 

Sinn Féin

Profile views: 533 

Likes: 12

Dislikes: 17

Overall: 26th 

Constituency: 1st

Twitter: 

Facebook: Yes

Blog:

Peter O’Neill, 

Independent

Profile views: 574 

Likes: 6

Dislike: 0

Overall: 436th 

Constituency:10th

Twitter: @ONeillPeter 

Facebook: says he has

Blog:

Henry Upton, 

Labour

Profile views: 412 

Likes: 7

Dislikes: 4

Overall: 292nd 

Constituency: 7th

Twitter: @henryupton 

Facebook: Yes

Blog:

If I don’t know much about the candidates, then how can I possibly vote for them?  Of the 18 candidates above, I have ruled out 6 purely and totally based on the fact that I have no information on them.  The Internet is a vast resource, many of the social tools are free, many are easy to set up and use.  Twitter is the best example here.  It takes precious little to set up a Twitter account and posting tweets is far from difficult. Several of those who have signed up on various social media platforms have not made enough of them.   Joan Collins has tweeted a grand total of 8 times, Neville Brady’s facebook page is practically empty.

So where does that leave me:

  • 5 candidates ruled out because of lack of information on them
  • 4 candidates ruled out immediately because I have issues with either their personalities or their policies
  • 6 candidates that I am not sure about and need to study further
  • 3 candidates that I have almost decided to vote for, though I haven’t decided the particular order

 

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