Learning, Participation and After Virtue

What makes a good person? This is an old and important question.  Philosophers and theologians through the years have sought an answer including Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Kierkegaard, Newman, Nietzsche and others. Alasdair MacIntyre provides a useful analysis of the history of thinking on this question and the current state of moral philosophy in his books After Virtue (1984) and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988). MacIntyre argues that a full understanding of moral philosophy today is constrained by failure to appreciate historical context. He proposes a disquieting scenario to illustrate what he deems the state of affairs today. Imagine, he suggests, through some terrible catastrophe all the scientists in the world were wiped out and with them the thinking and practice they engaged in. Some time later, when people seek to revive science they would only be partly successful; they would have to rely on clues from remnants of documentation, pieces of laboratory apparatus and a scattering of folk ideas. The practice of science would be gone. Although MacIntyre uses this vista to illustrate how, he believes, we have lost the way (and means) of moral philosophy, he is also making a point about ‘practice’. Human activities directed and sustained toward Read More …

Richard Hannaford An Extraordinary Teacher

Some people are natural teachers. I don’t mean ‘teachers’ in the everyday sense as in those who work in schools or colleges. I mean people who show us things and who we learn from in all manner of ways. Richard Hannaford was such a person. I noticed this many years ago when I first met him as my sister Norah’s partner and later husband.  Over the years I became more convinced this was the case, never more so than in the weeks leading up to his untimely death one month ago. Richard probably did not realise that we were all learning from him and I know that he would be somewhat embarrassed at the idea of being described in this way. However, I think anyone who knew him would agree that with every encounter, on each occasion involving Richard, we came away with some new insight, something extra to make us better. One thing we learned from Richard was the art of conversation. He cherished discourse and grasped the importance of listening to other voices and respecting different views. For Richard, discussion was an opportunity to see the world in a different way, as others see it. A frequent phrase he 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 …

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

Earthquake!!

Maire and I have just experienced an earthquake!  We are here in San Diego for the weekend after the SITE conference.  We had just been on a boat tour of the harbour and at some time before I was due to pick up a rental car.  We decided to go to Borders bookshop to have some coffee and relax.  Unusually I ordered frozen coffee and a cake – as they often do the server took my name and said he’d call me when it was ready.  I heard “Leon” and presumed it was for me and made my way to the counter.Woo! Woo! Woo! the earth began to shift.  Maire got very flustered.  I was a bit calmer.  But the experience lasted maybe 30 seconds.  It’s a very strange feeling.  I experienced it once before in Athens in 1980.  This was more sustained.The intercom in the store asked us to leave.  Contrary to what we’re supposed to do I made sure to collect my rucksack.  People were very orderly as we all left the building.  Outside we stood for several minutes while those with iphones checked their apps for updates.  I remembered I had a camera and took some footage Read More …

Weekend in Paris to “Sea the Stars”

Ryanair have a lot to answer for.A few weeks ago Eamon, a good friend of mine, rang me to say that he had spotted cheap flights to Paris for the last weekend in September – the Arc weekend.  Eamon and I both had busy Septembers so this was great timing for a short break. Our main interest was the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, perhaps the most prestigious race for top grade horses and this year something special was on the cards as Sea the Stairs an Irish (John Oxx) trained horse was on to complete a remarkable run of group one wins.  What this horse achieved in winning this race has never been completed before and without doubt makes him the most valuable horse in the world – watch and enjoy! posted by Leo Casey

Learning Italian Together (translated by babelfish)

La mia moglie Maire ed io ha deciso di imparare insieme l’italiano questo termine. Poichè siamo entrambe l’implicato nella formazione abbiamo pensato che fosse una buona idea imparare insieme la lingua. Dopo che molto cercando abbiamo trovato che il nostro istituto universitario della comunità locale ha fatto funzionare un corso di sera su Wednesday’ s alla volta che ci ha stato adatti. Ho mancato i primi due codici categoria dovuto altri impegni ed in modo da ero molto di scuse quando ho unito per la prima volta ieri il codice categoria. L’insegnante era fantastico – una giovane donna italiana molto amichevole che ha un regalo naturale come insegnante. Era grande – sono un principiante completo e con Maire (chi non aveva mancato i primi due codici categoria) abbiamo lottato con le introduzioni di base, vocabularly e la grammatica. Arrivederci per ora Leo My wife Maire and I decided to learn Italian together this term.  As we are both involved in education we thought it would be a good idea to learn the language together. After much searching we found that our local community college ran an evening course on Wednesday’s at a time that suited us.  I missed the first Read More …

On Holiday in Nerja

I am not quite a techie – I use technology as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The most used tool that I own is my laptop, it is my companion and I take it everywhere.I have been using a Mac notebook for the last three years (or is it 4?) and in recent times it has shown signs of wear and tear – the power cable broke, the processor became very slow and I had to replace the battery.So I decided to invest in a new MacBook Pro and I took delivery of it just the day before my holidays here in Nerja.As I write these words I am sitting at a cafe by the side of the Balcon (literally translated as the balcony) and of course I am using the new laptop.Macs have a built in camera facility – the software that supports it is called Photo Booth and I have just taken the picture sequence.Nerja is a lovely town with just the right balance between tourism and local culture. There are restaurants everywhere and as my friend and colleague Eugene points out there are plenty of wireless hot spots.I really like the 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 …