The Wisdom of the Fox and the Hedgehog

There is much debate about the kind skills we require for success in the 21st Century. It can be argued that what we learn in school and college often falls short of what we need in everyday life. Employers look for more than academic achievement when considering who to take on – in many cases they seek evidence of a broader set of skills encompassing problem solving, creative thinking, social skills and ethical appreciation. Consider the ancient Greek parable by Archilochus that contrasts the skills of two familiar animals: “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing.”  I think this is a useful metaphor to help us appreciate the complexity of the mix of skills required for life in the 21st Century. A fox ranges over quite a wide territory and is regarded as generally clever because of its adaptability and capacity to get the most out of opportunities. The skills of the fox are driven by curiosity and a need to survive on meagre and unpredictable sources of food. The fox is a great generalist. The hedgehog has a great strategy for dealing with predators – it rolls itself in a ball and presents its large array Read More …

Dissertation Writing

This is a busy time for many students who are working to complete their dissertations.  Having supervised and examined submissions over the years I appreciate the investment of effort that students make when completing their research dissertation. For many Master’s degree students this is their first truly self-directed learning project and the experience of carrying out primary research transforms their outlook on knowledge of the world. I would like to offer my top tips for Master’s dissertation writers, here they are: When you write a dissertation, even a scientific work you are telling a story – it’s important to unfold the plot in manner that will engage the reader. The research question is the crux of the narrative – you need to articulate this question clearly, concisely and frequently throughout the thesis and use it to connect all the parts together. A good research question has three characteristics (i) it arouses curiosity in both writer and reader (ii) it contributes significant and useful insights and (iii) it is suitable for investigation by means of an established research method. The purpose of a literature review is to establish a conceptual framework for the research question and to discuss other relevant or Read More …

Ssshhh!!! Exams in Progress!

This is a quiet but busy time in National College of Ireland semester one exams are now in progress.  We are encouraged to keep as quiet as possible as each room on the campus is now used to its fullest extent to facilitate the process. There is always tension associated with exams.  Students of all ages and all backgrounds find the prospect of being tested daunting. This is very understandable we live in a culture of measurement and accountability and education is an expensive process.  So, especially for the self-motivated,  we all want to see how much we know and how well we have progressed. As discussed previously, there is a useful distinction between goals and achievements that are measured by independent criteria such as exams or tests and other achievements that are socially referenced such as how other people regard performance.   For many students the exam results provide important feedback on how they have coped with the learning challenges associated with a course.  At some point in the future the result–put simply as a number–will be revealed.   However, this will only be a very small part of the story.  The student, and the student alone, will know how to Read More …

What are New Year’s resolutions and why they seldom work

New Year’s Celebration fireworks at Carton House, Maynooth Happy New Year! It’s the start of 2011 and last night we celebrated as we said goodbye to 2010 and welcomed the turn over to a New Year. At New Year and perhaps birthdays or other recurring significant dates we often conduct a self-appraisal and make decisions about our future behaviour. This is typically framed as a New Year’s Resolution: I will go to the gym and loose weight;I will give up smoking;I will do a course;I will complete an unfinished project (I know someone who has resolved to complete her master’s dissertation). So what’s really happening–why do we make such self-resolutions?  How likely are we to succeed in changing our own behaviour as a result of such public and private utterances? Last night I had an idea (my first of 2011) that is to develop a Theory of Resolutions.  Like many good theories will build extensively on the work of others.  Don’t worry that I state my goal in such grand terms as ‘a theory’ – I am simply attempting to provide a new perspective on the familiar, a framework for understanding and making sense of an aspect of our life.  Read More …

Learning without Teachers

I met Sugata Mitra at On-Line Educa in Berlin two years ago and was very impressed by his research work and his thinking on how children learn. This most recent presentation at the TED conference opens up a timely debate on the role of instruction in education.It is easy to be sceptical about the findings from his research. One could argue that such insights are gleaned from very particular contexts and further investigation of the actual learning processes involved is necessary. However, I am not really surprised that these effects are in evidence and they are compatible with the work of other educationalists such as Dewey, Vygotsky and Bruner.Have a look at the video and see what you think. I would be happy to have your comments. posted by Leo Casey

Wikipedia as a source in academic writing

Have you ever heard of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi?Pestalozzi was a Swiss educationalist – he had interesting ideas for progressive education – at the start of the nineteenth century he was advocating an enlightened approach to schooling.   Perhaps in a future blog I will further discuss Pestalozzi but the topic I have set out above is Wikipedia and I have introduced Pestalozzi as an example to support a point I wish to make.Could I invite you the reader to open a new tab and look up Pestalozzi in Wikipedia.   There you will find an excellent illustrated article containing biographical details and illustrations.  It is a good place to start if you wish to find out more about this influential thinker.   Notice that the bottom of the entry there is a list of references and links for further reading (I have inserted these below).  Starting with these references and links you now have a means to explore the writings of Pestalozzi and commentary thereon.For me this is the best use of Wikipedia – I find it a great starting point and signpost to other materials.Is Wikipedia itself an appropriate source?   In other words, if I write an essay should I cite Wikipedia Read More …

Course Entry Requirements – Recognising Learning from Experience

If you are thinking about taking a course, for example any of the NCI courses in the prospectus, you may see in the entry requirements that it is necessary for students to have a specific level of degree (e.g. honours degree) or a certificate or diploma to gain entry. These conditions are necessary so that all students are able to participate effectively and teaching staff can make certain assumptions about the level of prior knowledge people will have. However, there is a down side to this in that sometimes very good potential students miss out because on paper they are not deemed to meet the entry level requirements.We’ve all come across examples in our work where people with significant experience and competence in a particular field are not necessarily the most qualified in the formal academic sense. Not many people know this but there is a mechanism whereby anyone can obtain a formal academic credit (yes I mean a degree, diploma or certificate) by means of providing evidence that they have achieved the learning outcomes equivalent to a recognised qualification.No this is not some e-mail scam to give people cheap meaningless degrees from a little known US private college – Read More …

Plagiarism Reframed

Mention plagiarism to any third level academic and you are likely to be greeted with groans and laments.This is one topic that gets into people’s hearts – it leads to animated discussions and hard views. It is unwise to be regarded as soft on the issue. It is annoying, very annoying to be reading something presented as a student’s original work when it dawns on you – this is familiar – or – this is not the same style of writing as expected.Plagiarism is genuinely offensive to many academics – it offends one’s sense of academic integrity and is regarded as a dishonourable practice and a form of cheating.Many also feel that the student is trying to make a fool out of them – the tables are reversed – instead of the assignment being a test of the student it is a test of the examiner. Assuming the examiner will not spot the obvious is a form of insult. In most institutions plagiarism is treated as a disciplinary rather than learning or teaching matter – student’s face expulsion, suspension and fines if they are found guilty of the charge.Remarkably, despite clearly stated policies and warnings to students – it seems Read More …

Learning Assessment Through Life

I attended an excellent workshop today on the topic of assessment and learning. The workshop was delivered by Professor Sally Brown of Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. The attendees consisted of a mix of our own faculty at National College of Ireland and teachers from some of the other colleges around the country as part of the Learning Innovation Network. Sally started by inviting participants to reflect on how learning assessments have impacted on all our lives.This exercise got me thinking about the idea of a lifespan perspective on assessment – key moments of assessment and how significant their influence can be.When I was in school we were streamed in classes A B C etc.. I remember being asked a question when I was being assessed for 2nd class primary school (I would have been about 8 at the time). After infant school in a convent I went to a Christian Brothers School and on the first day the brother gave us a one-to-one interview that lasted about two minutes (or at least that is my recollection of it). I was asked “what is eight plus five?”. I actually knew the answer but I could not respond because I Read More …

Adult Learning

Adults learn what they want to learn and what they perceive as useful to them;Internalisation involves the construction of new meaning based on passed experience and new stimuli;Learning can be understood as always involving cognitive, psychodynamic and societal/social aspects;Communities of practice embody all three of these aspects and as such are powerful drivers for adult learning;Engagement in critical discourse is a likely outcome of successful adult learning in the long-term the reverse is also true adult learning is the inevitable outcome of critical discourse.Transformative learning can arise in adults where appropriate conditions exist for questioning assumptions, critical discourse, reflection and restructuring of perspectives. posted by Leo Casey