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 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 …

Reflection and Practice

What is reflection? Adult educators like to use the term “reflection”. In class you are likely to be invited to “reflect on your own experiences” or, when tasked with an assignment, you are just as likely to be invited to reflect as discuss, debate, argue or critique. I admit that I also like the term and find myself encouraging others and often myself, to reflect on a particular issue or problem. What does it mean to reflect? And how does reflection differ from “thinking about”, “recalling” or just simply “lulling over” a situation? Useful insight comes from the work of Donald Schön (best known for his book The Reflective Practitioner) who discusses the distinction between “reflection-in-action” and reflection-on-action”. My picture from New Year’s Day 2010 Reflection in ActionThis is reflection on-the-run so to speak.  It is a form of self-awareness that is brought into play as we engage expert activities.  For example, a teacher may use reflection-in-action during a class to try out, monitor, evaluate and moderate various instructional strategies.  As Schön puts it: “The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomenon before him, Read More …

The Common Good

The Concept of the Common Good I have argued elsewhere that the current debate on Ireland’s crisis needs to move away from economist dominated reasoning and be replaced by something more fundamental–a deeper and altogether more important consideration of the basic principles that we should use to organise our society. This week saw the publication of a document called From Crisis to Hope: Working to Achieve the Common Good by The Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Episcopal Conference.  This is a welcome and much needed addition to the current discourse.  It is a thoughtful exposition of what it means to think ethically about the current situation particularly from the perspective of the common good. As you would expect much of the analysis is underpinned by Catholic Church doctrine and as such, it could easily be dismissed by secular thinkers.  For many, the notion of religious doctrine is synonymous with being told what to think and is therefore contrary to the justifiably high value placed today on self-determination and individual autonomy.  However, often on closer reading we find something different as is the case with this text.  Here we are challenged, encouraged to think critically and above all Read More …

The Election Count- A Learning Opportunity

Why School Students Should Manage the Election and the Counting of Votes In Ireland voting in the general election takes place this Friday and this means a weekend of ballot boxes, exit polls, tally men and counting. We use a system of proportional representation (PR) that is very fair but very complex.  When you vote you mark candidates in order of preference on the ballot paper.  You can go through all the candidates assigning a  number to indicate 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th preferences and so on.  You can influence the outcome of who gets elected by means of your later preferences.  It is not unusual for the whole process to go through seven or more counts as the lower scoring candidates are eliminated and second and subsequent preferences from these votes are redistributed. Although the whole process appears complicated it’s based on some straight forward rules.  It is important however that voters understand the process so that they can avail of the full extent of their democratic choice. Normally we use civil servants and casual employees to work in the count centres – in many cases the local school is appropriated as the ballot station and even count centre.  Legally, Read More …

The Two Hour Club

It works like a book club but with a twist…. I have been working with some friends here in Maynooth to establish The Two Hour Club.  I think this is something that could catch on.  It’s a simple idea the goal is to provide a format for groups to get together frequently to discuss meaningful issues.  I think this is a useful format for learning and it evolves from my interpretation of some of the ideas of Jurgan Habermas. I have described this to other friends and colleagues and a number have indicated that they would like to establish their own version.  To help this I have created some video presentations that explain what its all about.  Have a look at these and click on the link above to connect with a Moodle support site. If you are thinking of establishing a group let me know. For more information on the Two Hour Club follow this link. posted by Leo Casey

The English (Poets) Graveyard in Rome

If you’ve been to Rome as I have many times you begin to look beyond the usual tourist haunts for places of interest.  Of course there is no shortage of these–the city has layer upon layer of stories to tell.   One such place of interest is the English Graveyard, or more precisely the graveyard for non-Catholics.  There are two famous poets buried here Keats and Shelly.   I loved poetry as a teenager.  Reams of beautiful words, gifts from my school days, are still available to me.  There is certainly something to be said for learning poetry ‘off by heart’.                         Ode to a Nightingale My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness painsMy sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,Or emptied some dull opiate to the drainsOne minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,But being too happy in thine happiness,–That thou, light-winged Dryad of the treesIn some melodious plotOf beechen green, and shadows numberless,Singest of summer in full-throated ease.…                   Ode to a Grecian Urn O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with bredeOf marble men and maidens overwrought,With forest branches and the trodden weed;Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thoughtAs doth eternity: Cold Read More …

Betty Casey One Life Happy Birthday

My sister Betty died this year. At the time I could not bring myself to write about it but today, the 23rd of December, is Betty Casey’s birthday and I feel the need to comment. Betty was the eldest of six children, I came in the middle, number three in line. There was something magic about our childhood.  We were reared in the Phoenix Park a vast enclosed piece of country located in the heart of the city of Dublin.  Our father Harry was a gate keeper and we lived in a gate lodge. While I was young the universe was packed into that small lodge and its environs.  What a universe that was!  It extended only in one direction and that was up the park–past the married quarters of the Garda, past the depo, over to the People’s Gardens through the Hollow and of course, on into Dublin Zoo.  This was our turf and the six of us and the other kids, friends and neighbours, were free to play, roam, explore and experience the world. Here was the jungle where battles were fought and monsters lurked.  Over there you could catch a whale in a pond.  That’s the triangle Read More …

November 2010 Ireland in Turmoil – The Relevance of Habermas and the Theory of Communicative Action

It may seem odd to make a connection between the current upheavals – the political, economic and national identity crisis in Ireland – and the work of Jurgen Habermas, a German social philosopher and critical theorist born in 1929.  However, I believe that insights from the work of Habermas have something to offer by way of explanation for the current predicament in which we now find ourselves and more enticingly, may also provide useful pointers for our emancipation through discourse and communicative action. Habermas is still a very active writer and he comments regularly on political and social issues of our time. You can keep up to date with his outputs via the Habarmas forum website.  Of note also is that Habermas was a recent recipient of the Ulysses Medal conferred by UCD – an interesting interview conducted by the Irish Times is also available. The most notable work by Habermas is The Theory of Communicative Action published in German in 1981 and translated to English in 1984.  This publication is in two volumes: Volume 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society and Volume 2: Lifeword and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason.  These works integrate and draw upon the Read More …

Education Cuts Seem to be Inevitable

It seems to be on the cards that there will be cutbacks in education as Ireland struggles to put together a four year budget plan to grapple with the financial debt crisis.I like to talk about learning rather than politics or economy in these posts but it seems that cuts will have to be made – indeed are being made – and these cuts will effect all our learning futures and therefore warrant consideration. As an educator I believe that, after the basic needs such as safety, health and sustenance are met, the primary task of any nation is the provision of education. Education is the means whereby culture and societal practices are developed and reproduced. Once we fail to educate then we fail as a society.Furthermore, as John Dewey pointed out, the provision of open and accessible education is essential for the proper functioning of democracy. When we suppress education we undermine the process of developing new thinking, critical awareness, communicative discourse and creativity. However, I do not believe cutbacks in education can be avoided; particularly if spending on health and social welfare are also going to be curtailed. So here are three ideas where money can be saved Read More …