Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ada Lovelace Day: Karen Spärck Jones and Information Retrieval

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to blog about female computer scientists we admire. Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) is credited with authoring the first computer algorithm (which concerned a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers) in 1843 for use on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine.

This year I am going to post about Karen Spärck Jones, whose work on information retrieval is fundamental to the operation of all modern search engines.

Karen Spärck Jones was born in Huddersfield, in 1935, she attended Cambridge University, in the late 1950s began working as a researcher at the Cambridge Language Research Unit. During that time she worked in the field of Natural Language Processing, and looked at the problem of near-synonyms, and developed more sophisticated ways of distinguishing ambiguous terms.

By the 1960s she was focusing on Information Retrieval and helped develop a metric to measure the importance of an individual word (or a family of words) in a document. This is the notion of Inverse Document Frequency (IDF) weighting, which she introduced in a 1972 paper "A Statistical Interpretation of Term Specificity and Its Application in Retrieval"

The Inverse Document Frequency (IDF) is used in all web search engines and is fundamental to their operation in terms of classification and retrieval, and has also filtered into areas of NLP.

Her more recent work had been on document retrieval, including speech applications, database query, user and agent modelling, summarising, and information and language system evaluation as well as projects on automatic summarising, belief revision for information retrieval, video mail retrieval, and multimedia document retrieval, the last two in collaboration with the Engineering department.

As an influential figure on evaluation programmes, Karen Spärck Jones was also involved in setting the standards for a large proportion of the work in NLP.

She was recipient of a significant number of awards, including:

  • Gerard Salton Award (1988)
  • ASIS&T Award of Merit (2002)
  • ACL Lifetime Achievement Award (2004) 
  • BCS Lovelace Medal (2007)
  • ACM-AAAI Allen Newell Award (2007)

She died on 4 April 2007, and Computer Science lost one of it's most important heroes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Why I think Ken Robinson is wrong about schools killing creativity.

Ken Robinson is a wonderful polemicist, and a fantastic speaker, but his points on creativity are highly debatable; if schools were killing creativity why is the so much creativity being generated by people who have gone through the school system? In both the artistic and problem-solving domains of creativity we have incredible examples of modern-day creativity.

He says we don't know what kinds of jobs there will be in 50 years time, and we may not, but chances are there still will be doctors, lawyers, accountants and street sweepers.

I disagree with his notion that creativity is as important as literacy, it really isn't.

Also I believe his view that we are educating to produce University Professors isn't true, it fails to recognize the wonderful work that so many highly creative teachers do, and it fails to understand that school is more than the classroom, there are sporting activities, and school plays, and all kinds of other non-classroom activities that help educate children (co-curricular activities), and in the case of third-level students, they are often learning to cook, clean and live by themselves.

In terms of the hierarchy in education, if we are ever going to find a cure for serious medical conditions, it's likely going to be achieved by people who studied a science, so there is a reason for this kind of hierarchy.

Finally my own reflection is that if there is anything that is killing creativity, it is rampant consumerism.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What is the Point of a Four-Year Degree?

There has been a bit of talk in the media recently about the need for a four-year degree, and could it not be compressed down to a shorter period. This is a really interesting question and I think gets to the heart of the goal of an academic education. I believe an academic degree should focus on equipping the students with the ability to "learn how to learn" rather than just learning a collection of skills; focusing on developing them as a person rather than just giving that skills that will make them attractive to employers (which I think is reducing the student down to an economic commodity).

Let me put my cards on the table, I believe it is possible, but very undesirable, to deliver a degree course in a reduced format. I think such a reduced model would have an extremely significant detrimental impact on the students' understanding of the material, and reduce their ability to stay employed in their discipline of choice. And if you think this is me just trying to protect my summer holidays, this is what I do over the summer.

It is clear that such material could be presented in a compressed format, we are all familiar with training courses, so we know that the material can be delivered quickly, but we also know that a training course only teaches you a very specific set of skills, and generally doesn't give you time to reflect on those skills, nor do they typically contextualise that material with a body of theory and models that help the students understand WHY we do things in a certain way as well as HOW to do them. As a Computer Science lecturer this is very evident to me, I know that if I am teaching students a programming language, my two main goals are to teach them how to use the programming language (as per a training course), but also how to understand in general how programming languages work, and why we are doing things in a particular way, and this requires a lot of reflection on their behalf. Why do we do this? Because chances are there will be a new programming language invented by the time they get a job, and they need to understand the general principles, and well as the specifics. The same applies to Operating Systems, Software Methodologies, Testing Techniques, etc. In other words, the goal of an academic degree is to teach students to "learn how to learn" not to learn a bunch of specific skills. As well as learning the specific skills of their discipline the students are learning to future-proof their skillset to ensure that they have the opportunity to have a long-lasting career.The students are also learning vital softskills for their sustained careers, including things like teamwork, communication skills, ethics, and presentation skills, these take years to develop.

The students need four years to reflect on their discipline; to reflect on how different subjects on their course link together for them; to reflect on what kind of learner they are; to reflect on how they work in teams; to reflect on what subjects they like and don't, and from there to consider what kind of job they'd like within their discipline. Reducing the duration of a degree course would seem like a good cost-saving measure, but I believe it would be a short-term action that would result in disastrous long-term consequences. The students need time to think about what they are learning and need time to develop into the professionals, and people, we want them to become -  accomplished, independent thinkers.

More on this:

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Very Difficult to Measure the Quality of a Programme

Measuring the quality of a programme is very tricky. Paddy Cosgrave, founder of The Dublin Web Summit has suggested that a degree from Trinity College Dublin has more value than an equivalent qualification from other Irish universitiesHe attempted to justify his statements on a blog posting where he suggests there might be cases where Trinity courses are not any better than others!

Normally I wouldn't comment on things like this, but given Mr. Cosgrave is a member of the Board of the HEA, and he picked such an incredibly insensitive (and morale-destroying) time as now, just when so many third-level students are heading into exams, I feel it's important to comment on this sort of claptrap.

Determining the quality of one course versus another is very complex, there are always subjective elements to measuring quality; Paddy Cosgrave suggested the following criteria on twitter for measure the quality of a programme:"faculty, facilities, funding, possible cohort effects, entrance requirements, hours of course etc"

  • The problem with using faculty, how are you measuring the staff members quality?
  • The problem with using facilities, how do you measure that, if you use a blunt metric like amount of money spent on facilities, that doesn't tell us if the money was well-spent.
  • The problem with using funding as a metric, in most cases "funding" as a criteria has a lot to do with research activity rather than teaching ability.
  • The problem with using "possible cohort effects" is the almost complete inability to measure this particular metric.
  • The problem with using "entrance requirements" is that if are looking at students moving from second-level where they may be doing lots of subjects they mightn't be interested in, to third-level where the are doing a topic of interest to them, it's difficult to predict which students will be more successful.
  • The problem with using "hours of the course" is that it's a blunt instrument, are more lectures and less self-study better, or less lectures and more self-study? etc.
In other words, what I'm saying is that these suggestions are very poor metrics, and they show that Mr. Cosgrave really hasn't thought about this at all, or hasn't done even elementary research. Why not consider real metrics like Constructive Alignment, and Horizontal and Vertical Alignment? What about considering the kinds of co-curricular activities supported by the institute?

It's important to recognise that similar degrees in different HEIs teach different content (and therefore often have different learning outcomes), but that doesn't mean one is better than the other or worse than the other, in third-level institutes around the country we are trying to create rounded learners, who are learning how to learn. This isn't like training courses where it's an exact like-with-like comparison, we want to have empowered students who are engaging in self-study (particularly in their final year); and because of these issues there will be a significant disparity from student to student even within the same third-level programme.

His argument about "Grade Inflation" is ludicrous, he incorrectly states that TCD has had less of an increase in First Class honours that all the other universities, it hasn't. There are a lots of reasons why students are getting more Firsts in the last decade; the wider diversity of students in classrooms (particularly the often highly-motivated international students), the wider availability of useful online resources for students to help them learn, the increase in the number of lecturers with educational training as well as discipline expertise, the increased number (and more diverse range) of courses available in all third-level institutes.

On twitter Paddy Cosgrave mentioned that he would prefer to hire a computer science student from MIT than the 5000th ranked higher education institute (here and here), I will note that the criteria for ranking third-level institutes is based almost exclusively on research output of these institutes and has very little (or nothing in some cases) to do with the quality or their programmes or the quality of the teaching on those programmes.

A lack of understanding of statistics is evident in Paddy Cosgrave's statements that he is using the Undergraduate Awards as a metric for college courses. He needs for consider issues such as:

  1. How can you measure the quality of all of the universities on the basis of a couple of hundred students out of over 10,000 enrolled students? it's so statistically insignificant it's shocking.
  2. How many people from each institute entered the undergraduate awards, the distribution of the results of the UA might just reflect the distribution of entrants?
  3. What are the judging criteria for the UA? They are a mixture of highly behaviourist categories combined with highly subjective categories
  4. Is the data normally or near-normally distributed?
  5. Why just consider the 2011 awards (when I can say for certain it was under-prompted in IoTs compared to universities that year)?

He also seems to have no idea of the purpose of the NQAI Framework:

or the purpose of Learning Outcomes:

Learning outcomes are not easy in Computer Science, the ever-changing face of these courses (a course that was high quality last year might be out of date this year, things are changing rapidly in the this domain; look at things like Cloud, Apps, Exadata, etc.). So just looking at the outcomes on programmes based on grades is highly tricky.

See also 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 5

Week 5 of my Continuing Professional Development qualification in "Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education" being delivered by the DIT  Learning, Teaching & Technology Centre.

Really, really enjoyed this module, and sad it's over.

This week our groups were to present their work to date on our inforgraphics.

The guys gave a very funny, clear presentation on an infographic on apps for students. The infographic is called "Total Appiness" and will increase the creativity of the students using apps. They quoted a lot of interesting statistics and research, and the infographic has a fantastic look. They are using thinglink.

The guys are developing an infographic on the application of the theory of creativity in Engineering first year students and staff. They looked at a lot of research on the creative process and developed a meta-analytic cycle of creativity. They focused on tying the formulas and theories into reality, and used a Roller Coaster motif. They used easl.ly and piktochart.

The guys are doing an infographic on nurturing creativity in third-level. They used a lovely metaphor of a tree, with the roots representing primary and secondary school education,  the body of the tree representing third-level education, and a bird plucking a CV from the top of the tree as the students getting jobs. They used infogr.am.

We presented our rationale for our infographic design, and presented a draft of the infographic.

Team Project work on Critical Thinking Infographic from Damian Gordon

Yellow Hat - learning object for lecturers – one stop shop for critical thinkers, Sherlock theme is creative and unique, well researched  - ‘good detective work’ Nice consistent presentation, consider accessibility, also interactive, purpose and audience clear, nicely brings in what was learned over the 5 weeks

Black Hat -
a lot of text, possibly too much information, needs to be more concise, lots of text, synthesise, summarise, too condensed

White Hat -
Question: is the Infographic for lecturers or students? How conscious would the students be with the process? How would it be used as a learning tool?  For students eg does it matter if the student is aware of Bloom, constructivism of info processing model? Info – very dense, overall too wide, too much text, didn’t follow through Sherlock idea in info graphic context.

Blue Hat -
what is the overall idea? This is like a review of the course, does this work in Pinterst? Is it informative as it stands?


In the presentations yesterday, the tutors recognize that all four groups have worked conscientiously and diligently behind the scenes in preparation for their infographic. In the space of five weeks, all groups have produced graphic visual representations of a blend of information, data and knowledge on the topics of creativity or aspects of critical thinking, and we were suitably impressed by the quality attained so far. As the peer feedback in class yesterday was specific to each group, we have formed our comments here in a general way to be applicable to all four groups. Remember also to have a look at the assessment criteria for the infographic (on the homepage of wikispaces), as a check before submission.

Positive Points
  • All four infographics have the potential to improve understanding of the chosen displayed topics; in the interim between now and the submission date, it would add depth to the work if you were to conduct a small piece of ‘primary research’ to inform their infographic i.e. get some feedback from your target user group, and use this need to shape the direction of the concrete concept that has to be explained visually in the infographic.
  • Drawing upon personal experiences and reflections can be useful in identifying key themes and ideas that will be of benefit to a potential audience. The practical applications that were included in some of your Infographics, will help to increase engagement with intended users.
  • We are looking for a demonstration of a high level of both production values and scholarship in the infographic; effective use of visual content works not only is appealing to the eye but importantly it can work well to pull the infographic themes together. However, given the space limitations, you should still think about the added value in using a particular graphic – rather than making the product more aesthetically pleasing (watch copyright issues too!). We will be looking for the content to be effectively structured and presented under your themes, so that this will communicate a clear overall message on your topic. 
  • The creative and artistic talents of individuals in all groups have been well utilised to make each infographic a unique offering. For those that chose to include it, the cyclical nature of the creative process depicted in the infographic can work well to demonstrate the breakdown of the topic and the relationship between the various elements of creativity, and communicates a clear accessible message to a potential audience. Remember, the graphic is likely be viewed as a standalone piece – without the benefit of your background thinking and narrative. As was suggested yesterday, perhaps have a preview session with an intended user group, to gather their initial comments and how they interpret your ideas.
  • In those groups that chose to use it, humour was integrated well to the message to communicate key points/messages effectively for the intended audience.
  • We liked that the infographics can open up our notions on what creativity and critical thinking are and that all groups used their individual interests and talents to organically grow their infographic.

Developmental Points
  • As the purpose of the infographic is to present complex information quickly and clearly to a particular audience, each group should revisit their work and bear this in mind when producing the final version. Remember the need to introduce ‘theme’ graphics to the infographic to pull together or conceptualise the underlying visual representation of the data; this is important to have rather than have an over-abundance of images and text. This will help demonstrate evidence of higher order thinking and engagement with the topic. It is particularly important that the content captured in the Infographic is grounded in theory. Identify key literature for inclusion and provide a rationale behind your selections along with any additional reading in the group wiki space. 
  • Also, all groups should revisit one of the most important aspects of their infographic - that they contain some sort of valuable insight from the group into the data that they are presenting (this is what will make your work unique to your group), perhaps combining a diversity of approaches reflective of the blend of individuals that make up your group. 
  • Remember the three basic provisions of communication with your chosen audience that need to be considered when finalising your infographic – visual appeal, comprehension, and retention. 
  • There is a need to cut down on text in some infographics (you know this yourselves) and ensure that only the main message or theme is presented, and that the infographic still works well as a standalone without the benefit of your accompanying narrative. 

FINAL THOUGHTS: Gosh, well this is it, final class, what a journey, what an excellent module, and a great team of people to work with in Team FiveStar. Roisin and Jen, are excellent lecturers, and the quality of guest lecturers we had was superb, I've learned a lot about working in groups, and loads about creativity and critical thinking, well worth the weekly trip to Upper Mount Street.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 4 Activities


PART 1. The blog entry for this current week is a video blog and you are asked to reflect on the guest speaker’s topics and choose 2-3 critical thinking strategies that you would integrate into your practice - discuss why.

[Still have a raspy voice from having the flu, but will do a videocast as soon as my voice is better].

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 4

Week 4 of my Continuing Professional Development qualification in "Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education" being delivered by the DIT  Learning, Teaching & Technology Centre.

Really, really enjoying this module.


We started with Roisin and Jen asking each group giving a verbal presentation of their ideas from the Ideas Exchange activity, concerning gamification:
  • Team Digital  Immigrants proposed the use of Duolingo (https://www.duolingo.com), a free language-learning and crowdsourced text translation platform.
  • Team TELOS suggested the use of Cisco's Packet Tracer (https://www.netacad.com/web/about-us/cisco-packet-tracer) to play "king of the hill"
  • Team JEEVI suggested a game for surveyors on a golf course, and a 3D refrigerator simulator.
  • Team FiveStar (my team) proposed the use of points and badges.

Gamification in the context of education focuses on looking at ways that the features of games; with their use of levels, rewards and competition, can be used in to motivate students to learn. One particular facet of gamification is the use of digital badges to recognise achievement or skills attainment. Some of these badges are broadly recognised. and benefits include making education more engaging and widely accessible. The more the student engages and participates the more badges and points they get.
Talk #1: Critical Thinking by Dr. Gerry Mac Ruairc

Gerry Mac Ruairc from UCD gave a fascinating talk on Critical Thinking, he thinks that in the online teaching world, critical thinking is "sharper" than in the classroom setting.

He discussed the nature of critical thinking, is it a set of general skills or a discipline-specific phenomenon. He suggested that there are problems presenting learning as a hierarchy, it might not always make sense to move from the basics to the more complex.

Reflection: The notion of rejecting hierarchies in education is very dear to my heart, I think the idea of higher-order thinking versus lower-order is a nonsense, they are interdependent, and taxonomies like Bloom's should be renamed as "Bloom's Model".

Gerry presented a general 3-tired model of critical thinking:
  • Critical Thinking
  • Critical Thought
  • Critique
and presented 3 models of critical thinking.

MODEL 1: Four Traditions of Criticality (Stables, 2009):
  • The Critical Method, science-based, e.g. Popper
  • Literary Criticism, cultural studies, e.g. Leavis
  • Social Criticism, e.g. Freire, Habermas
  • The Deconstructive, e.g. Derrida
Reflection: This model got me very excited, these are the themes and the people that we are including in our infographic, and these are people who are featured in my teaching. Karl Popper, the philosopher of science, is featured very heavily in my "Research Methods and Proposal Writing" module. His notion of falsifiability is central to our modern idea of  what science is, and the preeminence of the experiment. F.R. Leavis, the British literary critic, gets a mention on my talk on "Hackers and Hollywood", Leavis wrote a rebuttal to C.P. Snow's The Two Cultures. Paulo Freire and Jürgen Habermas, the advocacy researchers, are also mentioned several times in  my "Research Methods and Proposal Writing" module. Finally, Jacques Derrida, the linguistic philosopher, gets a mention in my "Foundations of Assistive Technology" module where we look at the social construction of the notion of disability.

MODEL 2: Critical Thinking in Professional Practice (James, 2010):
  • Critical Skills
  • Critical Knowledge
  • Critical Disposition
Reflection: This model is very good as it breaks down critical thinking into a series of steps and skills, making it clear that Critical Thinking is not a simple, singular concept, but is incremental and developmental.

MODEL 3: Critical Thinking in Assessment and Curriculum (Maton, 2009)
  • Semantic Density versus Semantic Gravity
  • Theory/Academic versus Practical/Tools
  • Verticality versus Grammaticality
Reflection: Karl Maton's model of critical thinking is excellent, it describes the oscillation between practical and theory in any discipline, and how learning outcomes mediate that oscillation.

Gerry mentioned that for assessing Critical Thinking blogs can be surprisingly effective, as well as essays, forums, and wikis to a lesser extent. In this regard he echoed Patricia Broadfoot's call to "challenge educational hegemony", and he suggested the power of capstone projects to overcome over-assessment.

Talk #2: Socratic Questioning by Dave Kilmartin

Dave Kilmartin, Head of the Career Development Centre at DIT gave an absolutely awesome talk on the use of questions in Critical Thinking.

Dave started by suggesting we think of Kipling's poem:

I keep six honest serving-men  
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and 
When And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
- Rudyard Kipling, "Just So Stories" (1902)

Then asked us to consider the purpose of education, answers included:
    * to develop
                - personally
                - economically
    * "to draw out from"        
                - in a constructivist sense        
                - to develop their own skills
    * to enlighten
    * to increase awareness
    * to broaden their horizons
                - in terms of their discipline
                - in terms of their society
                - in terms of the world
    * imparting knowledge
    * transformation
    * educate individually
                - individually
                - as a group
    * empower them with skills to become autonomous learners
    * question the status quo
    * promote lifelong learning
    * to help understand and normalise the rules of society

Dave also suggested we look at:

Dave mentioned Ron Barnett's 2004 call for an ‘ontological turn’ in curriculum and pedagogy
away from a focus on knowledge and skills to a ‘pedagogy for human being’.

Dave asked us the purpose of asking questions:
    * to stimulate discussion
    * to encourage reflection
    * to look at things at a different angle
    * to test the validity
    * to understand

Some questions are less powerful:
Yes/No, Which, Who When, Where

Some questions are more powerful:
What, How, Why, What if?

What are the components of a well-reasoned argument?
    * Facts
    * Logic
    * Deduction
    * Openness
    * Lateral thought
    * Proof
    * Evidence
    * Multiple perspectives
    * Clarity


Reflection: An awesome talk that gave real, practical advice on how to use questions in the classroom, and what motivates students.

  • Barnett, Ronald (2004), "Learning for an unknown future", Higher Education Research & Development, Vol. 23, No. 3, August, 247-260. 
  • James, N., Hughes, C., & Cappa, C., 2010, "Conceptualising, developing and assessing critical thinking in Law".
    Teaching in Higher Education,15(3):285-279.
  • Maton K., 2009, "Cumulative and segmented learning: exploring the role of curriculum structures in knowledge building". British Journal of Sociology of Education 30(1)  pp 43–57. 
  • Stables, K., 2009, "Educating for environmental sustainability and educating for creativity: Actively compatible or missed opportunities?" International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 19, 199-219

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 3

Week 3 of my Continuing Professional Development qualification in "Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education" being delivered by the DIT  Learning, Teaching & Technology Centre.

Really, really enjoying this module.


We started with Roisin and Jen asking each group giving a verbal presentation of their ideas from the Ideas Exchange activity, concerning dealing with large classgroups:

  • Team Digital  Immigrants proposed the use of a combination of Role playing and Problem-based Learning, to help develop real-life skills.
  • Team TELOS suggested the use of Socratic questioning, with the Six Thinking Hats, and Clickers
  • Team JEEVI suggest the use of Audience Response Systems (e.g. Clickers) to anonymously poll students
  • Team FiveStar (my team) proposed the idea of dividing the large group into smaller groups.

Research indicates that peer learning can have a significant impact on student achievement, and for many students is more impactful than tutor teaching. When dealing with large classgroups there is a danger of students feeling anonymous, yet by creating structured opportunities for students to interact with each other in small groups in focused activities, can potentially result in a more personalised and more positive experiences, for example if the students are given a specific activity to do and agree to conduct themselves to a code of positive behaviour towards their classmates, they can feel more ownership and responsibility towards their learning. The use of technology such as clickers can be very useful to gauge the effectiveness of peer learning to both the students and lecturer alike. On the other hand when students in a large class are grouped into teams then the performance of the students can be assessed by both their peers (voting - as Randy Paush suggests four tasks and four votes) and the lecturer.

Reflection: Team TELOS won, well done. I know Edward would be upset with the guys suggesting that different groups use different hats, rather than all hats used by all groups, but in practice I think what TELOS suggested is very practical.


Next we were presented with the option of going to two of three talks on creativity, as a team we speard ourselves out so that each talk was seen by at least two people. As there were four of us, each of who could go to two talks, and a total of three talks, the following simple equation:
told us that the best spread would be to make sure that two people go to one talk and three people go to the two other talks.

Talk #1: Nurturing and Developing Creativity

This presentation was given by Kerry Meakin, and was in two parts, the first involved us as a group undertaking activities in the room, the second was a PowerPoint presentation focusing on research done in this area.

The activities included holding hands, identifying people by their hands with your eyes closed, then walking around and role playing that we were on a bench, on a cliff, in a bathtub. Then crouching down very small, and then expanding and filling out our spaces. Then we pretended we were playing musical instruments, and finally had to sell an item to each other for €250,000.

Reflection: Kerry is an excellent lecturer and has a really wonderful way of interacting with people. The techniques she advocates obviously work for her and really seem to generate a sense of fun. It definitely wasn't my cup of tea, it's not how I conceptualise creative thinking, and I think these things tend to ghettoise the concept of creativity.

The second part of the presentation focused on the research aspects of Kerry's work, which cites important researchers, including; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Howard Gardner, Ellis Paul Torrance, and Donald Treffinger.

Reflection: I found this element of the presentation to be very interesting, and it appealed much moreso to what I understand the concept of creativity to be.

Talk #2: Technology-Supported Creativity

This presentation by Barry Ryan focused on  the use of technology to support creativity, his focus was on "students as producers" as opposed to consumers. Highlighting Biggs (2003) quote “Learning cannot be transmitted by direct instruction, but is created by the students learning activities” and Neary (2009) focus on “Real Life, Complex and Unstructured research-like activities”. With the key pedagogical unpinning supports being Cousins (2006) Threshold Concepts, and Bruner (1966) Spiral Curriculum.

Barry says the goal of the activities are to develop student engagement - developing activities that make the students want to take part in activities, and that this would constitute active higher order thinking processes.


Barry uses Peerwise to get the students to develop multi-choice questions for each other, and other students get to vote and to comment on the questions. This is a powerful form of peer-learning, where students get to think about the materials being covered, and support each other in their understanding of the topics being covered. The students love using Peerwise and will work for hours on developing the best questions, and like the asynchronous nature of the activities.

Barry has a model of how the students develop their understanding using Peerwise, it is somewhat like Laurillard's Conversational Model:

Barry gets the students to work in groups of four, to look at any topic in biochemistry, and produce a three minute video on that topic. The group must do the research, develop storyboards, produce the video, do a show and tell, and undertake a reflection. The videos are reviewed using "two stars and a wish". Developing these videos produce tangible life skills.

Reflection: Wow, Barry uses technology in exciting and active ways that I think help the students engage more fully in their learning, and be active in their learning.

Infographic Assignment

 The rest today's class was time to work on our assignment, we focused on what the intended audience of the infographic is, which is lecturers, and we want the infographic to empower lecturers to try new approaches to teaching higher order thinking, with a focus on tools as well as theory.

  • Biggs. J. 2003, "Teaching for Quality Learning at University – What the Student Does" 2nd Edition SRHE / Open University Press,
  • Csikszentmihalyi, ., 1998, "Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life". Basic Books
  • de Bono, E., 1985, "The Six Thinking Hats", Penguin. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 3 Activities


PART 1. Listen to and reflect on this podcast: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/audio/2012/may/07/science-weekly-podcast-jonah-lehrer

Alok Jha meets Jonah Lehrer author of "Imagine: How Creativity Works".
Alok Jha says "Studying the brain is one of the big challenges of the 21st century". Lehrer says creativity is a new idea that has a second life, it's useful, and it finds a niche in the world.

The Swiffer power mop developed by Procter and Gamble, trying to develop stronger soaps, outsourced to a design firm, Continuum, who observed nine months of videos of people mopping, and concluded that mopping is very inefficient, so rather than getting the old mop head dirty all the time, they developed disposable cleaning heads for the mop.

Bob Dylan was sick of being a folk singer, and he was going to give up on the music industry, and he is going to paint and write novels, but he went to a cabin and he just kept writing for several hours "the ghost was in charge" having him write down words, 25 pages in all, and  he wrote "Like a Rolling Stone", which revolutionised rock and roll. A song that represents a combination of his influences: Woody Guthrie Robert Johnston, Bertolt Brecht, and William Blake, into a new kind of song.

Two parts to creativity, "a moment of insight", the answer came out of the blue, as soon as the solution arrives, it is clear that it's a solution. 
Superior Temporal Gyrus
A technique developed by Mark Beeman and John Kounios is to give people word problems, and doing an fMRI, just before an insight there is a spike in the anterior superior temporal gyrus, where different ideas are brought together ("remote associations").

Creativity is about the solution, and there are many ways to get to the solution, even a brute-force approach is creative.
  • Inspiration-side to creativity is linked with alpha waves. Sometimes our best ideas arrive after we've stopped looking for them. 
  • Perspiration-side to creativity is linked to working memory. This means there can be many iterations and can lead to people become melancholy. We can assess with up to 85% accuracy whether or not we can solve problems, and determine our progress  This is called "feelings of knowing" by Janet Metcalf.
How to solve a problem - First ask "do I think I can solve this?" if so put in the work, and then make progress, and then when you hit the wall, take a break.

Charles Limb's study of Jazz musicians shows that before they improv they deactivate an areas of the brain called the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, associated with Self-Control and Executive Functions.

Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex

The limits of fMRI and EEG mean that there needs to be other threads of evidence, include patients with brain injuries, or degenerative brain conditions. Also looking at children's brain development, and dreams in sleep, that occur when the frontal lobes are inactive.

Creativity is subjective, and can be prophetic, but neuroscience is one way of looking at it. Also Nietzsche's idea of the Apollonian and Dionysian Dual map neatly on divergent and convergent thinking. David Hume also had good ideas on creativity. Aristotle mentioned the link between mood and cognition.

There is assumption that Creativity is related to the Arts and not to Science, but in terms of how artists and scientists operate, they are both working as problem-solving, and in the brain there is little difference in their processes.

T. S. Eliot said that bad poets are usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and are conscious where he ought to be unconscious. In the same way science can help us understand the right ways to improve our creativity, the right ways to control our environment.

One characteristic that defines a creative  person is grit, as defined by Angela Duckworth, it a single-mindedness and persistence, and has little to do with IQ or personality.

Reflection: As a life-long Bob Dylan fan I had to smile when I saw the topic of this podcast, and that the author Jonah Lehrer was being interviewed. I am very aware of this book, and that the author is an admitted fraudster, repeatedly, and plagiarist, whose book that is the topic of this podcast has been withdrawn from publication due to factual inaccuracies. Still on reflection the book might still be worth reading, and the podcast worth listening to. But for accuracy, I'm including an infographic created by  Journalism Professor Charles Seif on Jonah Lehrer's transgressions:
The ideas presented in this podcast are interesting, and do tend to confirm what I teach in my own classes about Problem Solving, but this has also renewed my interest in the neuroscience of creativity, and I'm going to re-read my copy of Adam Zeman's "A Portrait of the Brain".
PART 2. What are the main lessons you can take from it to apply to practice? You are asked to keep an Audio blog this week.
[Still have a raspy voice from having the flu, but will do a podcast and add to https://www.podomatic.com/ as soon as my voice is better].

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 2 Activities


PART 1. Choose one tool from http://tiny.cc/socialmedianews and to discuss how it could be used to promote creative or critical thinking with my students.

The tool I choose is Delicious, which is a social bookmarking web service for storing, sharing, and discovering web bookmarks. It would be very useful for my teaching to add my module Reading Lists to Delicious, particularly for those modules where the majority of references are to online materials, using unique tags. Then for each main topic I cover in the module to get the students in groups to augment the Reading List with relevant online materials. Each group could be required to review the materials that other groups produce using an appropriate rubric that would consider the overall academic qualities of the material, and then only the top rated links would be included in a final resource list.

PART 2. Also we are to look at http://www.mindomo.com/view?m=06842a45ed8344acb4584dbe1b297367 and to comment on it as another way to think about social media.

I hadn't really thought much about the "Guidelines and Policies" element of social media, I found the policy guidelines released by the Canadian Government for the public service use of Web 2.0 to be very interesting. Even on employees on personal sites, they are required to remember that: 
  • Public servants owe a duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada;
  • Do no harm to the reputation of your employer;
  • Maintain integrity and impartiality; and
  • Uphold the tradition of political neutrality of the Public Service.
I also like Reynol Junco's "The Need for Student Social Media Policies", which contains a nice definition of cyberbullying "Cyberbullying is when someone purposely embarrasses, harasses, or torments another using digital media." which makes me reflect on a newspaper article I was reading where they said some students felt cyberbullied if they posted their status  online and no one commented on it or "liked" it (if they felt it was being done in a deliberate boycotting fashion) which is covered by "purposely embarrasses", I think.

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 2

Week 2 of my Continuing Professional Development qualification in "Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education" being delivered by the DIT  Learning, Teaching & Technology Centre.

Really, really enjoying this module.


We started with Roisin and Jen asking each group giving a verbal presentation of their ideas from the Ideas Exchange activity concerning tools to support creativity or critical thinking:

  • Team JEEVI discussed their idea of looking at uses of 3D printing throughout all of the courses in the DIT, and having a competition for looking at the most innovative use of 3D printing, and the winner would get a 3D printing.
  • Team Digital Immigrants proposed an activity based on "pin the tail on the donkey" where various activities are stuck on the wall as post-it notes, and that students tackle them and display their solutions on the wall.
  • Team TELOS proposed the use of Google Hangouts to including other participants in the classroom including industry experts.
  • Team FiveStar (my team) looked at the use of the LiveScribe smart pen, full details below.
Team Five Star: PEN PALS 2.0

The digital pen, LiveScribe, allows students to write messages, record those messages, upload them to a computer, and annotate them with audio recordings. This type of technology opens a multitude of potential collaborative, and social constructivistic, opportunities, as Livescribe allows you to “pencast” all of the data recorded from one LiveScribe pen to a computer and to broadcast it to a fellow LiveScribe user.

One potential approach that the LiveScribe presents is to allow students from different countries to exchange both written and audio samples of their native language, as well as exchange information about their culture and heritage. This provides the potential for nuanced peer learning experiences, and as the technology allows students to exchange diagrams, doodles, and sketches as well as text, this could lead to a more personalised and authentic set of learning experiences; and provide opportunities for highly creative shenanigans.

RefectionWe won the gold star, yippee. Truly a group effort, Paul proposed the use of a pen, which led Jacinta to suggest smart pens. María-José suggested having international students communicating, so I put all the ideas together, made sure everyone was happy with the direction we were going in, and wrote the above concept.


Claire McAvinia gave a riveting and highly interactive talk on critical thinking. She started off by getting everyone to introduce themselves, and she said she would try to to remember everyone's name.

Reflection: A really lovely way to start the session, really classy.

Following this Claire got us in our groups to consider someone someone we think is a critical thinker and reflect on; why we think they are critical thinkers, what skills they have, and how they use to communicate their critical thinking skills. After a minute she suggested that if people couldn't think of someone they see as critical, could they think of someone who is an anti-role model, someone who we think is not critical.

Reflection: A brilliant idea, the anti-role model, Michael J. Gelb suggests something similar in "How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci".

Reflection: I chose Noam Chomsky as my example of a critical thinker.

We explored some of the characteristics of critical thinkers:
  • asks questions
  • looks at outliers
  • makes links
  • takes different perspectives
  • has acuity
  • has flexibility
  • attacks the argument, not the person
  • has humility
  • has a sense of humour
  • has curosity
  • has a lot of knowledge
  • can be dispassionate
  • has training
  • encourages others

Reflection: This was an excellent interactive element of the session, using the flipchart.

We also looked at a video to explore critical thinking:

The issues the video brought up were:
  • Need for evidence
  • Trusted sources
  • Currency/newness of facts
  • Medium/source
  • Percpetion
  • Emotional impact
Reflection: This reminded me of both the Boilerplate hoax and the DHMO website.


The next task was to create a 3-minute advertisement for critical thinking. We started off with a clear idea that we wanted to do a Krapp's Last Tape style play, with the main character, Mary, facing the audience sitting at a desk, answering some phone calls. We modified the idea and a little, and in filming we moved from having the callers appearing on-screen, to having them just being heard off-screen. Some dialogue was also changed, and the group asked me to perform Mary's final monologue to camera, making the final advertisement more Brechtian than Beckettian.

  • Team JEEVI showed two YouTube videos, first was greyhounds chasing a rabbit, the second was a cat catching a bird. Their point being that the cat showed patience and critical thinking whereas the dogs don't. They suggested critical thinking is in our nature, and if we trust our instincts we will be alright.
  • Team TELOS gave a powerpoint presentation contrasting the idea of teaching critical thinking by rote with allowing people to develop their critical thinking more naturally.
  • Team Digital Immigrants created an excellent video in the style of Vincent Browne, debating whether or not critical thinking should be, and could be, taught.
The agreed marking criteria was:
  • Originality
  • Persuasiveness
  • Clarity 

Reflection: The advertisement was a truly collaborative experience, with many changes made in rehearsals and in the filming process.

  • Gelb, Michael J., 2000, " How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day", Dell
  • Guinan, P., Bennett, A., 2009, "Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel", Harry N. Abrams.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 1 Activities


PART 1. First look at Ken Robinson's TedTalk: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html. Then select one from the following Creative Spark playlist to discuss in class:http://www.ted.com/playlists/11/the_creative_spark.html

In our groups we discussed the videos we had reviewed as pre-module activity.

My views on Ken Robinson's talk are that he is a wonderful polemicist, and a fantastic speaker, but his points on creativity are highly debatable; if schools were killing creativity why is the so much creativity being generated by people who have gone through the school system? both artistic and problem-solving creativity.

He says we don't know what kinds of jobs there will be in 50 years time, we may not but chances are there still will be doctors, lawyers, accountants and street sweepers.

I disagree with his notion that creativity is as important as literacy, it really isn't.

Also I believe his view that we are educating to produce University Professors isn't true, it fails to recognize the wonderful work that so many highly creative teachers do, and it fails to understand that school is more than the classroom, there are sporting activities, and school plays, and all kinds of other non-classroom activities that help educate children (co-curricular activities), and in the case of third-level students, they are often learning to cook, clean and live by themselves.

In terms of the hierarchy in education, if we are ever going to find a cure for serious medical conditions, it's likely going to be achieved by people who studied a science, so there is a reason for this kind of hierarchy.

Finally my own reflection is that if there is anything that is killing creativity, it is rampant consumerism.

I also shared my views on Amy Tan's excellent talk on her creative process. Which I think is a wonderful, personal, and deeply interesting talk about connecting with people to encourage creativity (like Richard Drew of 3M).

PART 2. Look at Pinterest and identify an inage from "Critical Thinking" or "Creative Thinking" that you like.

We were also asked to find an image from Pinterest, on the topic of either creative or critical thinking. I selected critical thinking and choose an image based on Lorin Anderson's 1990s revising of Bloom's Taxonomy:

[My Reflections on "Why Your Brain Craves Infographics"]

  • Anderson, L., 2001, "A Taxonomy of Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives", Pearson.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 1

Today I started a new module as a Continuing Professional Development qualification in "Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education" being delivered by the DIT  Learning, Teaching & Technology Centre.

One of the modules I teach for the MSc in Computing students is "Problem Solving, Innovation and Communications" which focuses on creativity techniques, and part of my reason for doing this module is to look for new and different ways to present the material. Another module I teach for the MSc students is "Research Methods and Proposal Writing", so I'm hoping the critical thinking element will help for that module.

Although I am voluntarily taking this module, nonetheless, as with all new student experiences for me, I approached the first day with dread: Would I be completely lost in this module? Would I be able to cope with the academic demands of this module? Would I have time to do all the activities?


The opening activity involved introducing ourselves to three other people, it's something I'm fairly terrible at, but thankfully everyone I spoke to was so courteous and friendly that activity with very easy.

Reflection: As I hate doing this sort of thing myself,  I never get my students to do this, I generally do an icebreaker with "Two truths and a lie".


The next activity involved going out into the corridor and ordering ourselves left-to-right in order of our month of birth without speaking. This was successfully accomplished, first by going to the place approximately along the line proportionately to the month position, and then using fingers to illustrate the month number.

Reflection: I do something similar in my class where I get the students to guess my age based on "the wisdom of crowds", I'll definitely try this activity next class.


Following this we were given a task to build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow, when the marshmallow needed to be on top of the tower.

Not a great success:

Reflection: A highly fun and practical activity that helped bring up together as a team, and really helped us get to know each other quickly, and start focusing on something practical. Tom Wujec's talk is good, the bit where he talks about high rewards bringing less success is mirrored by Dan Pink's book "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us".


The last activity involved us undertaking a series of tasks, included, taking pictures of local monuments, describing Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats, identifying the authors of some creativity quotes, each member undertaking a VARK Learning Styles survey, locating a nice MindMap image, drawing four lines to cover nine dots.
Reflection: A fun activity that helped us get to know each other more, and provided members of the team with activities that helped them learn a little more on eLearning.


To help decide what we is going to be the focus of our infographic, and plan next week's activities, we are using the provided platform, Wikispaces.

Reflection: Just spent a few hours using Wikispaces, and it's still as bad as ever, I've had several bad experiences with it already, and really prefer PBWiki or TWiki. As an example of it dreadfulness, two of us were editing the same page and one of us saved their version, the second of us overwrote those changes. Wikispace should lock the page that I am currently editing to others like most other wikis do, grrrr...  Also it is not obvious once you've uploaded a file that you need to click on it to actually add it onto the page.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Any concerns I had about my ability to do the module quickly disappeared after today's class with Roisin and Jen, individually they are excellent lecturers but together they complement each other wonderfully.

  • de Bono, E., 1985, "The Six Thinking Hats", Penguin.  
  • Surowiecki, J., 2005, "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations", Doubleday.