Monthly Archives: May 2008

Being pc on the PC

I’m very curious about the role of technology in education. And yes, there’s much that can be done to rejuvenate learning, and reach students in a way impossible without technology. But there are some things in the education domain that you cant really tackle with technology (or are there?).

Graduation, for example, is supposed to be a time for dressing up in the academic garb, listening to inspirational speeches from influential movers-and-shakers, having your nearest-and-dearest (if you’re lucky to have one of those) take pics of you, and generally feeling pretty darned nice about yourself. But, the dreaded pc (that’s political correctness, hence the no-caps) is creeping in. How about this from Anglia Ruskin Uni in the UK – pc gone too far or perhaps something else?

Made me wonder what an online graduation would be like? How would it work? The technology to link everyone up is there, you wouldnt have to leave your living room, but not sure how the actual presentation of the piece-of-paper would work, and you probably wouldn’t get the feel good factor. But, one thing’s sure – no-one would get whacked by flying mortar boards!! It gives whole new meaning to the internet being a safe place.


A timeout

This is supposed to be an education-related blog but I really want to share a funny (and true!!) story that happened during the week. Ah, the joys of running the local post office, I’ll bet it’s great fun.

Decided to stop by post office on way to work to post a letter and pay 3 weeks over due licence for my televisual device. Teller gives me the stamp and I lick it (bleugh) and put it on envelop while he goes and processes my televisual device licence. He comes back and saysI gotta pay for the stamp in cash coz its only 55c and a seperate transaction to the televisual device licence. I say ok, and then uhoh. Realise I dont have a single cent in change on me, nuthin, only plastic. Oufff. Cue hilarious few moments – teller looking at me in complete disgust coz he thinks I’ve pulled a fast one on him. Me trying not to laugh coz I know I’m innocent and its all completely accidental, and the fact that he’s looking at my stamped letter and I’m wondering if he’s so annoyed he’s gonna ask for me to tear the stamp off the envelop. This goes on for several minutes. In the end he decides to let me off with price of stamp. I say I’ll drop in the following morning with the 55c but he completely doesnt believe me and his face stays the colour and expression of thunder. I make for the door and out before I collapse in giggles.

By the by, I did go back with the 55c. He was so surprised. I reckon I made his day


Isnt it typical. Nothing for ages and then everything at once. A bit like Dublin Bus – you wait for ages for a bus and then 3 come together. Anyhow, here are the possibilities for this weekend –

  • I catch up on the work that if it doenst get done this saturday will cause major time crunches later
  • I go down to Limerick and partake and bask in the glow and excitement that is Munster in the Heineken cup final – big screen, lots of people milling around wearing red, mega excitement in the city, local pride oozing, etc
  • I go attend this – at the University. There’s mention of the excitement about mycosm, the blurring of virtual and real worlds (very curious as to what might be said here, I’m alway disappointed about the reality of such blurring. Maybe I watch too much Star Trek), location-based services (I posed an exam question on that this year), cyberpsychology (been fascinated by that for years – I find it really interesting how aspects of a person’s personality change online or are unconsciously adapted or dropped by a person’s online persona – explains why cyberdating can often fall apart when it moves from cyberspace to reality), how to make money in SL (dodgy territory indeed), etc.

So, what do I do? Possibilities –

  • I go to Limerick and get slagged royally for going to a conference (and potentially learn a lot) instead of the big-screen match
  • I go to Limerick and get caught up in red rugby fever
  • I dont go to Limerick and instead catch up on work so I’m not pulling my hair out in a couple of weeks when I wont have tome to look around me i.e. miss out on learning opportunity and red rugby fever

Answers on a virtual postcard to……

Art – (un)limited by time and place

The locals have come up with an interesting one to deter the local kiddies (young ones and not so young ones) from covering the place with graffiti. Here’s a step-by-step –

  • Acquire a couple of sheets of plywood from somewhere or other
  • Affix said plywood to railings of centrally-located sports courts
  • Affix sign telling the kiddies that if they absolutely want to exercise a bit of graffiti in the local area they have to use that boarding and nothing else
  • Wait to see product of kiddies graffiti work
  • Wait a month to see product of kiddies graffiti work

Anyhow, its now working. The boarding is now covered with spray paint but here’s my question. Is it pretty? Is it art? Or is it a chaos of paint? When is art art, and when is it a mess of paint? It’s all completely subjective. In my mind the locals attempt are pretty darned nice and isnt it wonderful that they’ve got a free public canvass. Yet, if the very same art were on, say, the wall of my house….. “art” isn’t what I would be calling it. But, isn’t it the same creative expression and the same talent? Of course it is!

The point of the story; there is a wealth of talent that’s abused and ridiculed simply because it’s the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time of year always makes me uncomfortable and I silently apologise to my students for making them sit exams. I just know that –

  • I’ll end up reading lots of off-the-point material that the exam question didn’t ask for. The students are showing off lots of knowledge that I cant give them any credit for
  • At least one student having family problems (little son / daughter having accidents the morning of the exam and requiring a trip to A & E). Result – not mentally tuned into the exam
  • At least one student stressing out in traffic across the city. Result – not mentally tuned into the exam
  • Cramming instead of reflecting. Result – killing off the knowledge that has been built up
  • etc etc etc….

…from students who exhibit significantly more skills and capabilities at other times of the year. There’s just something not quite right going on. For too many kids the the exquisite graffiti goes on the house wall where its not appreciated and the the scribble goes on the official boarding. Result – failure and disappointment and a knock on the head for self-confidence.

graffiti girl

Pic ref:

How to do sums – not!

Ok, its maths time.  Now I can hear you complaining but we’ll just do some sums, plain addition, nothing fancy.

Get a pencil and paper.

No, you cant just pretend to get a pencil and paper, go get a pencil and paper.

Ok, now you have your tools ready, jot down the following numbers:


Now, add them up.

Oh, ok, you can use a calculator, but just this once mind!

What did you get: 127551.73

Now, what happens if you add – 127551.73 (that’s minus 127551.73).  Yes, they cancel each other out and you get zero. Common law of addition – add a minus number and a plus equivalent and you get zero. Doesnt matter if you’re adding 4 to -4, or 4000000 to -4000000 it’s all the same zero.

Now, go open up ye ole MS Excel. Type in the numbers. First type in the list as above and use the sum function (as you do) to add them up. You should have something like this below-

Adding up

Now, in an empty cell type in -127551.73

Check that your sum function includes this new minus figure.

adding up more

Now, what’s that all about?

Did we make a mistake somewhere along the line, or is Excel programmed to add up in a not-so-conventional manner, or is this a lesson – computers can sometimes make a mess of things???

(Un)Constructive Learning

Now, here’s an interesting guy
Some Quotes from Stephen Heppell –

“It is a stumbling block that we are still building 19th century schools for the 21st century. We have to ask the hard questions. Why do we ring a bell and expect 1000 children to be hungry all at the same time? Because it is convenient”.

and another –
We need to let go of the productivity definition of education. When we do let go, we see huge leaps in engagement and learning but acknowledges it is difficult to get people to let go. He thinks we need to find excuses to do it just now, but when people experience it working, they don’t want to go back. Agility is the key.

So there!

On the one hand, I completely agree. Couldnt agree more. We force learners into our definition of learning, we expect them to show their learning through daft outcomes such as writing essays at the e-x-a-m-i-n-a-t-i-o-n and woe betide them if they dont get the 40%. And what does it all mean anyhow? What are we measuring? What are we looking for? It’s at this time of the year that I feel guilty looking at rows and rows of students in their isolation bubbles writing essays in a very unconstructive way. How realistic is it to ask students to put away their books and computers and phones and gadgets etc, write an essay on an unseen topic with nothing but a pencil and blank paper? And then, to repeat myself – why? Are our assessment methods killing off joy of learning?

Back to Stephen Heppell – “How do you measure creativity? What is the equivalent of a 1500 word essay? Managing an online discussion for a week? Creating a 10 second video? Posting a podcast?”.

Do it yourself… you might even learn something :-)

We all know the value of outsourcing – getting someone else to do the work you should be doing yourself. Oh, of course, you pay the outsourcer a nice hefty sum based on how much and how well they do the job for you. Outsourcer goes off and does whatever he/she has signed up to do, happy that a cheque will be forthcoming. Outsourcee goes off and spends their time on something of more interest to them. But what if the outsourcee has previously entered a contract to undertake the work themselves. Can they then outsource it? Is it in their interests to outsource it? Hmmm.

Take the increasing problem of students outsourcing their college assignments. Websites offering to take this workload off their hands are touting for business. But, it’s a lose/lose situation so why bother. The student (outsourcee) doesn’t learn anything about the course they signed up for. The outsourcer cant very well put this one on their cv. If todays piece in the Guardian is anything to go by, the quality of the work is most definitely more trouble than its worth. Their Josephine scrapped a 40% in her outsourced computer programming project that she then couldn’t explain to her lecturer who kept having to chase her for the omitted components. Her history project ended up being plagiarised by her plagiariser and lands her in a date with her college’ disciplinary board.

So why are Josephines flocking to these dodgy charlatan websites? Here’s some speculation –

  • Josephine is working 2 part-time jobs as well as her full-time college course and simply doesn’t have time for doing assignments
  • Josephine is over-whelmed by her course and needs a get-out-of-jail card
  • Josephine was out on the tiles the weekend / night / week / day / (delete as appropriate) before the assignment submission
  • Josephine has no interest in her course, she just wanted to go to college
  • Josephine’s parents have far more interest in her course than Josephine does
  • Josephine can’t resist the temptation of an easy let-off

The thing is, whatever her issue, Josephine has voluntarily lost an opportunity for learning. Who’s fault is that? The even more ironic thing is Josephine would have been better off had she saved her time and her money and did the projects herself. She might even have learned something….!