Ready to Learn – Taking the First Step

Oh I was just wondering have you got a moment, I just want to ask you about something‘ she had arrived at NCI reception and they suggested I might meet with her. ‘No problem at all‘ I assured her while thinking how much I had to do that afternoon. Five minutes later she sat in my office. She was very nervous and I thought I noticed a slight trembling in her voice. Her name was Susan. ‘It’s like this‘ she said ‘I was thinking of doing a course here but I am not sure if I’d be able for it‘. She went on to tell me her story. She left school at sixteen without a Leaving Cert. She worked in the retail sector for the last twenty five years and now she is a manager. She is married with three kids and two of them are in college. She reads a lot and is well liked by her colleagues. Generally, she’s happy. But there’s always been a niggle. An unease and sense of being often left out, ignored and taken-for-granted. ‘Sure what would Susan know‘ she once overheard a younger colleague remark. Susan explained that she has been thinking about Read More …

Getting to Grips with Academic Writing

Yikes ! I can’t write this assignment! Some students find it difficult to get to grips with academic writing tasks. Whereas they often understand key concepts associated with an assignment or task they find it very difficult to express these in writing. The problem can lead to stress and frustration on all sides as written assessments may not be seen as a fair measure of student learning outcomes. Of course every person is unique and it is not always easy to provide good advice for all situations; that said, I have noticed similarities in the challenges students face and so I hope the advice I provide below can be of help. Technical versus Mindset There are two types of barriers to writing ability. The first is ‘technical’, by this I mean literally the skills of grammar, vocabulary and composition – the kind of stuff you should learn in school. For a various reasons, students often miss out on these skills and need to work on their basic literacy and writing technique. Thankfully, this is not a common problem in higher education but it is important to be mindful that people can get very far in the system by avoiding situations Read More …

New Learning and Education Degrees at National College of Ireland

I am delighted to introduce two new degree programmes at NCI the BA (Honours) in Early Childhood Education and the BA (Honours) in Adult and Workforce Education.  These are new awards developed by our team to address the growing interest in education at all stages of life and in all contexts. An important idea underpinning our approach to learning is that education is not confined to school. We learn so much in early childhood that stays with us throughout life and likewise when our school years are over we continue to learn as we progress through our career and meet the challenges of our lifespan. It is natural to learn. This seems like an obvious statement but it is so simple we often overlook its importance. We are ‘natural born learners’ and more than any other living organism we are destined to learn all the way through life. Early Childhood Educators are now rightfully regarded as professional practitioners who require advanced qualifications and specialist knowledge and skills. The sector is now the subject of important legislative and policy developments. It is a wonderful area to work in and requires committed educators trained to the highest level. Adult and Workforce Educators Read More …

Questions and Inquiry

I have a recent publication in E-Learning and Digital Media and the following post is a shorter version of some of the ideas I discuss in this paper on Questions, Curiosity and Inquiry. Questions are the root of inquiry; they initiate, sustain and invigorate all aspects of deep learning. Questions direct investigation, drive creativity, stimulate discussion and are the bedrock of reflection. In order to understand inquiry we need to deal with questions. I begin by attempting to clarify potential misconceptions of what exactly questions are. I argue for precision in language and I encourage a fuller conception of questions as situations and processes rather than simple sentences. I also discuss curiosity and elaborate on Dewey’s conception of curiosity as a natural resource for use in the training of thought. These ideas on the nature of questions and curiosity help to frame our understanding of the Inquiry Cycle as a model of learning. They can also act as a bridge, closing the gap between theory and practice, contributing insights on the integration of technology in teaching and learning and suggesting new areas of application and research on learning and inquiry. Questions as Situations Questions and questioning are familiar processes ubiquitous Read More …

Why We Learn

Sometimes big questions just sit under our noses and are too close and obvious to warrant attention. The matter of why we learn falls into this category. It seems obvious that we learn every day of our lives and that learning is important but why is it so? Part of the answer lies in our evolutionary past. To understand why we learn we need to appreciate the benefits of learning in terms of survival and growth of human beings. Learning is a special way in which we can gain advantage in our quest for success. Every person and indeed all animals have innate abilities developed through natural selection. Over many generations animals adapt to their environment and acquire specialist abilities for hunting, defence, reproduction and so on. When we observe animals in their environment we appreciate the usefulness of these assets. Mink have fur coats to survive the cold winter, cheetahs run very fast and hedgehogs have spines and roll in a ball when under threat. Notice it is not easy to distinguish a behavioural ability such as knowing when to run and a physical ability such as well-developed muscle and skeleton for running. If you look at anatomy and Read More …

Ten Tips for Writing Academic Papers

Completing academic writing assignments is one of the most important skills you will need to develop as a student.  This is true regardless of your subject or discipline. Based on my own experience writing and correcting papers and discussions with students I have compiled these ten tips to help you get going.  I have used these at the Academic Writing Club we set up in National College of Ireland to support students through the challenges of this process. 1 Read the task Spend time reading and analysing the task you have been assigned.  Look for action words such as ‘discuss’, ‘compare’, ‘critique’ and so on.  Check if you need to provide examples or to analyse or deal with a particular context.   Write the task at the head of your essay and make sure you address every component of the assignment. 2 Get on with it! Start writing straight away – don’t keep putting it off.  Many students say they need to read first and write later.  It is better to read and write at the same time (see tip 4 below).   3 Use the opening paragraph as your plan Start with something like “In this assignment I will….” Read More …

From marks to Marx: Shifting your mindset for learning

We all like to achieve and when it comes to doing a course or gaining a qualification we want to achieve the best result possible. Naturally we want to get an A+ or a First Class Honour in whatever subject we study.  Striving to get a good mark – a Distinction, Merit or Commendation – is a useful approach to learning and for many people it is the driving force guiding their learning effort. We all like to achieve in learning but what should we really aim for? (My picture of Doo Lough, County Mayo) However, it is worthwhile to ask if it the ‘best’ approach?  Is there a better, more fruitful and, in the long-term more rewarding target to aim for? I argue that there is and want to make a case for moving beyond a simple focus on marks and assessment to the more expansive idea of growing your mind through ideological critique and praxis. If you are an active participant on a course you will likely have learning goals.  These are implicit and explicit statements of what you wish to achieve.  How you approach different topics and learning challenges, where you apply effort and how you measure Read More …

How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation

Writing a Literature Review Writing a dissertation is one of the great learning tasks of college education. However, many students find it a daunting process. One of the first challenges you face is writing a literature review and the purpose of this post is to help you get started with the process, to keep you on track as you proceed and to provide a means of self-reviewing your outputs when you (think you) have completed. Let’s start with a simple set of questions: What constitutes a literature review? What is it used for? and What distinguishes a good literature review from a poor one? As the name implies, a literature review is a review of other people’s work in a particular field of scholarship. Such a review is always directed and informed by the research question to be addressed. For example, if your research question is related to adult literacy then you will need to provide a review of other works, be they theoretical models, research reports or practice studies, that relate to adult literacy. Most importantly, a literature review cannot be of any value unless it is referenced to some form of research question or problem. It is a common mistake for students to misunderstand the purpose of a literature review – Read More …

RoboBraille An Interesting Pedagogical Tool

  Some of my colleagues and I are participating in a European project as part of a transnational consortium looking at the uses of RoboBraille -an interesting tool/service that has emerged as an assistive technology for the blind.  www.robobraille.org As the name suggests RoboBraille began as a Braille conversion tool to enable simple text to be rendered in various forms of Braille. The technology has now been developed to provides conversion and translation between a wide range of formats: From .doc, .docx .htm, .html .xml .txt. .asc .rtf .pdf (all types) .epub, .mobi .tif, gif, .bmp .jpg, .j2k, .jp2, .jpx .pcx, .dcx .djv To: Braille, MP3, ebook (epub or mobi), Daisy, Accessible Formats Put simply, if you have a text file (say from a word processor like MS word) and you want to be able to listen to a very good synthesised voice reading this document then you simply submit your file on the web site above or by e-mail. You get back an MP3 or a Daisy (a format that allows text and speech to be played together). This is very useful for people who find reading difficult – the partially sighted, people with literacy difficulties and people with Read More …

The Disengaged Student

In the further and higher education sectors we often come across the phenomenon of the disengaged student. Typically a small number of students who register for a course seem to drift away – they are characterised by poor levels of engagement in class, infrequent attendance and lack of compliance with assignment deadlines. This is very frustrating for all concerned and inevitably it leads to trouble – failed assessments, repeats, appeals, reviews, etc.. All this seems to happen like a car crash in slow motion; we can see the inevitable outcome from a long way out and there seems nothing we can do about it. By treating students are adults we recognise that they need to take responsibility for their own learning. Higher education is not compulsory and parental influence on learning should be much less than in school. This presents a dilemma educators and parents; on the one hand we want students to succeed but we also need them to succeed ‘on their own’. Too much interference and students never learn to take control; on the other hand, too little support and they drift into dissengagement. I think part of solution could involve a new component called ‘Learning to Learn’ Read More …