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 …

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 …

The Troublesome Nature of Learning Outcomes

In higher education learning outcomes are part of the bedrock that informs assessment, qualifications and course approval processes.   They are important statements and as such we should give serious consideration as to the nature of learning outcomes and how we use them. I have a growing sense of unease that we have collectively bought into a set of assumptions about learning, teaching and the nature of knowledge that limits our understanding of the processes involved.  Most particularly, I am concerned about poorly formed and limited thinking that surrounds the conceptualisation and use of ‘learning outcomes’ in third level teaching contexts.There is an instrumental view of learning is dangerously simplistic.  It regards education in industrial terms and hence learning outcomes constitute the produce. Unfortunately this view is pervasive as it seems to fit with the current obsession with economic rationality.  In this bizarre world-view learning outcomes are given numerical value, assigned to levels, added together, divided up, stated as percentages and generally treated as though they were clearly defined, uniform and self-contained entities. Much of the prevailing dogma and practice in higher education supports this commodification model of learning outcomes.  Some of the blame rests with the quality and regulatory processes.   There seems Read More …

Plato’s Meno

Plato’s Meno One of the first accounts of the troublesome nature of learning outcomes is given in Plato’s Meno.  Plato used a series dramatically constructed dialogues as vignettes to illustrate philosophical points he wished to make. In the Meno Plato describes a conversation between Socrates, Meno (hence the title), a slave boy and Anytus. Meno puts the following problem to Socrates: “Can you tell me, Socrates, can virtue be taught? Or is it not teachable but the result of practice, or is it neither of these, but men possess it by nature or in some other way?” Socrates and Meno proceed by agreeing that whereas they would recognise instances of virtue, as actions or as a quality in a person, it is difficult to know the essence of what it means to be virtuous. So herein lies Meno’s paradox how can we recognise examples of virtuous behaviour while not knowing the entirety, or the common form, of the concept. In other words, how can look for something (a form of knowledge) when we don’t know what it is? The important point is that Meno’s initial question on how we learn virtue inevitably draws us toward a conceptual  examination of the Read More …

Learning Outcomes

Where we find learning outcomes All learning outcomes are descriptive, they are attempts to capture in a series of statements the results and consequences of instruction or experience.For anyone taking on a course of study, particularly a third level course, they are likely to want access to a description of that course and the modules associated with it.  A key part of any such course or module description will be a series of statements that define the purpose and intent of the learning involved – these are known as the “Learning Outcomes”. Learning outcomes can be defined at all levels of course participation: Programme Level Learning Outcomes are statements that describe the range, depth and kind of knowledge and competence expected of a student on completion of an entire programme such as a degree or a diploma. Module Level Learning Outcomes are statements that describe the knowledge and competence expected by the student on completion of a particular module or subject area within a programme. Class Level Learning Outcomes are indications of what is expected to be achieved by the students on completion of a specific class or tutorial session. posted by Leo Casey

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 …