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What will happen in higher education this year?

So far I’ve managed to avoid the new years list idea.  The new years resolution and/or predictions phenomena just don’t work for me. Anyhow, with all the political happenings taking place at the moment in the country. the implications of associated “cost-savings” methods that some people seem certain will be implemented, along with some interesting websites I’ve come across, I’ve changed my mind.

Adrian Wreckler (he of the SBP) isn’t very complementary in this piece. One first reading, this type of content produces a whirl of annoyance. On reflection, I have to admit that it has some truth. Quote: “It’s sad. There is little or no debate about quality in third-level education. It’s all about access and free fees”. That’s a true statement.

The piece ends with some interesting questions for whoever might be the new Minister of Education.  He also gives the public-pressure “politician” answers.  Thinking and planning ahead into 2011, what should the answers really be.

  1. How are colleges to improve standards (recruit top people, attract best students, create the best research) without the reintroduction of student fees or additional exchequer funding?
  2. At a more general level, Irish third level institutions currently trail their counterparts in leading European and US cities in innovation and achievement. Is this of concern and, if so, how can it be reversed?
  3. Eircom wants the state to help fund a new fibre network. Do you intend to do that? (Note: that’s a spending commitment.) If not, do you have a plan (or any thoughts whatsoever) on how high speed broadband should be rolled out nationally outside urban centres?
  4. If elected, what kind of industry development would you prioritise, and how?

These are important questions and require constructive intelligent answers and subsequent action.  The problem is that we may have a weak incoming Government what will not have funding or the belief that answers and actions are required. We will likely end 2011 trundling along as we are now. with our existing problems getting worse, and a few more added along with way. Standards will continue to deteriorate, Irish colleges and universities will fall further behind their European / US counterparts, and Eircom’s fibre will remain dark.

On a more positive note. the guy behind Speed OF Creativity has launched an interesting project.  He wants people to outline their perspective of “vision for educational leadership in 2011” in a 30-second videoclip.  Upload your contribution to youtube with the tag “digitalvision2011”.  There’s an associated wiki here. This is an interesting opportunity to see what priorities educators in different international locations are setting for 2011. I wonder how many will address Adrian’s questions.

Paul The Octopus and Scientific Methods

A conversation about scientific research methods sometimes arises when I meet my dissertation supervisor.  Surely if methods and processes are solid then whatever comes out of them is equally solid? If only life was so easy and straight-forward.

Plenty of in-depth and critical predictive research is carried out on large sporting events. After all, where would the bookies be without them?  The problem is that predicting the future is impossible to do with anything close to total accuracy.  There are simply too many unknown variables that could come into play between the time of the prediction and the final whistle.

All is not lost, however.  The Germans have the solution. They have Paul the Octopus!  The fountain of knowledge, (or Oracle, if you will) has done a seriously good job of predicting the output of the matches played by the German football team.  According to Wikipedia (yes, I know) Paul has correctly predicted the outcome of 10 out of 12 important matches. That is significantly more than could be predicted by chance.

The question then is how.  What techniques and methods is Paul availing of.  A quick reminder that Paul is an octopus is needed.  Does an octopus have the cognitive skills to analyse a range of football performances?  Surely not.  So , what’s happening?  Does Paul have a canny zoo feeder who is the real football analyst and has trained his tentacled friend to accept one box of food over another that has nothing to do with football per se?   Or am I spoiling all the fun by trying to find a reason for this?  Can I now just leave well alone and enjoy watching Paul choosing his lunch?

More seriously, black box processes can produce interesting and plausible output. Yet, they are frowned on because of their lack of transparency.  In formal research, it seems that output is frowned on unless it can be traced back to its roots and each and every step in its production is documented in minute detail. Why is that?  Research has become more about process than product?  When and how did that happen?  Answers on a virtual postcard……