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The Sunday Times have produced their annual University Guide with todays edition of the paper. It makes for interesting reading.

The ranking order of Universities and Institute of Technology in the country is given. NUI Galway are top. As usual, people are likely to quibble about the components of this ranking and how they are measured. For example, one element concerns the number of first and 2:1 honours given to graduates.  The idea being that the more of these there are, the better. The dumbing-down argument is never far away. I have a previous post related to this so I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say, that I consider the rankings to be an indicator only and recognise that an open mind needs to be kept.

What really grabbed my attention was the profiles of the various universities / colleges. Each institution profile asks a student therein to suggest a “Worst Feature” and a “Deal Clincher” for their institution. The student comments for each institution can be found in the file box on the right (I knew that box would be useful sooner or later).

 Did you notice what I noticed? 

Very very few of the comments concern academia. With only a small number of exceptions, practicalities like parking and social life dominate the list.  I’m reminded of the episode of Friends where Rachel says she switched her major from psychology because “there was never any parking beside the psychology building”. Cue audience laughter based on Rachel not being a serious college student.

Should we as lecturers be worried?  Are learning, skills acquisition or knowledge enhancement not as important to our students as we think they are?   Or are these things simply not at the top or bottom of the list for most of the student representatives here?   

Whatever the answer, it’s a cause of worry.  If student and lecturer priorities have drifted so far apart we have a problem.  We have to fundamentally question what is the purpose of a third level education and we need to do so with our students.


More on twits and tweets and their uses

I’m feeling a tad guilty for not being a more active twit. I’m not entirely sure why I’m feeling this way. I’m equally not sure who or what is making me feel this way. To figure out the answers to those questions I’ve been looking at some uses twitter is being put to, and what might be good / bad / indifferent about them.

Here’s one that caught my eye about live tweeting by doctors performing a live surgery.  How is this any different than the more common practice of videoing the procedure and then placing it somewhere (online?) accessible to the med students, potential med students, etc, etc, who might be interested?  Answer – the fact that it is live.  What does that add – a buzz factor, a sense of immediacy.  Are either of those needed?

In my humble opinion, medical procedures are too personal and too serious for something as casual and trivial as a buzz factor. Even the most common and apparently straight-forward of operations can go wrong.  This is a human being that is being operated on. Does the world need to know all the details that should be the preserve of that patient and their immediate nearest-and-dearest. The same thinking applies to the immediacy factor. A live commentary might cut down on the worry for the loved ones of the person being operated on, but why might anyone else be in a rush to know about the fate of the patient.

It seems to me that the twitterbug is the latest in an evolution of social networking tools. There are now a lot of these tools available and those that take off typicallyvhave something unique to offer.  For twitter it is the sense of short bursts of real-time here-and-now. It’s being used in a variety of scenarios. The hospital one quoted above I don’t agree with (but thats just me, perhaps otherw would disagree). Immediate on-the-ground reactions to a plane crash before the ‘official’ press can literally get to the scene is a much better use.

But who am I to say what should be used for what. For me, the most interesting thing about such web 2.0 tools is that many of them are out there in the public domain and so its up to the public what use they use them for. Sitting back and seeing what people make of them is a social experiment in its own right.

The Church going backwards

When someone mentions the city of Modena in Italy I immediately think of that great of great tenors – Luciano Pavarotti. He was talent for his native city to be proud of.

But now Modena has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Apparently the archbishop wants its young folks to abstain from text messaging, social networking websites and computer games for Lent!!  Why, oh why would any one want to do that? Cut yourself off from your friends, deprive yourself of a source of fun, cause confusion in your social life because you cant text your mate that your group is going to club x instead of club y. What if you have e.g. missed the last bus home and are now stranded. How do you let your friends and family know what’s up. The list goes on. But apparently, the archbishop of Modena doesn’t see things like this.

So, why the call for abstinence then? Apparently the young people have to cleanse themselves from the virtual world and get back into touch with themselves.  Oh dear! From my studies of psychology I’ve learned that much of our self-knowledge and who we believe ourselves to be comes from our interaction with others. A tool that lets us do that should be encouraged.

Yes, we know that computer addiction is a very real problem with some people. But think about it for a moment. How many people do you know who spend (or would genuinely like to spend) every waking moment online, who suffer physical and / or mental withdrawal problems if their computer breaks down. I honestly can’t think of any. I know of people who consider themselves highly engaged in their web life but are all reasonable normal well-adjusted people who can engage perfectly well in the real world.

Excuse me now, while I go catch-up with my Facebook friends.