Thursday, 15 December 2016

More on world university rankings.....

Carl O'Brien, of the Irish Times, tells us that a recent report issued by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), states that governments and colleges should ignore world university rankings, including the QS World University Rankings. 

The report cautions against an over reliance on such ranking systems, as the data only examines the research activity of the institution, and not  aspects such as learning and teaching.

HEPI aren't against university rankings, but feel that universities should be judged on a more holistic basis.

For the full article follow the link below.

Full report available:

International university rankings: For good or ill?

Monday, 12 December 2016

Not students - just customers!

Writing in the Irish Times today, Kathleen Lynch argues that with higher education becoming increasingly commercial in its approach to teaching and research it no longer has students - just customers. The Government’s national strategy for Irish higher education to 2030 states that third-level institutions should “strike a balance between the demands of the market and their academic mission” giving them a remit to be more commercial in its teaching and research operations. Lynch claims that of the 14 research priority areas identified by the research prioritisation steering group in 2012, not one is in the social sciences, education, arts or humanities.She concludes that the values incorporated in the governance and priorities of higher education must reflect the fact that education is a human right and that it is also a public good that greatly enriches cultural, social and political life, outside of its market value. Follow the link below to read the article in the Irish Times.
Colleges are increasingly expected to promote commercial interests and values throughout their operations. Photograph: iStock

Not students but customers!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

50 great Education books

Writing in The Conversation, Dennis Hayes says that he has often argued that he wouldn't let any teacher into a school unless they had read - as a minimum - carefully and well, the three great books of education: Plato’s Republic, Rousseau’s Émile and Dewey’s Democracy and Education. He further argues that each book is sociologically whole and together they constitute the intellectual background to any informed discussion of education.  Therefore the struggle to understand these books and the thinking involved in understanding them would change teachers and ultimately teaching. The list of 50 books on education below constitute an attempt at an education “canon”. Read more by following the link below. 

50 great books on Education

Are libraries invisible to junior scholars?

A recent report by the Publishing Research Consortium which has looked at the attitudes to publishing of early career academics and also their increasing use of Google for research purposes, has prompted debate about the future of academic libraries by suggesting that libraries have “little to offer” the next generation of academics. However, Ann Rossiter, executive director of the Society of College, National and University Libraries (Sconul) has argued that researchers don't need to come into a library building to use their services and that no matter how junior scholars discover materials, the resources were “almost certainly” made available by the university library. Others argue that while the traditional view of the library may be becoming less visible research libraries are responding by moving into new areas in the scholarly communication chain. Read more by following the link below. You may need to register to access the article.

Person reading miniature book

Are libraries invisible to junior scholars?

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Oxford Graduate sues University over failure to get a first

An Oxford University graduate is suing the university for £1m claiming the “appallingly bad” and “boring” teaching cost him a first-class degree and prevented him from having a successful career. A judgement is expected later this month and if he wins, the case could open the floodgates to similar claims from students complaining about inadequate teaching, unsuitable accommodation and poor decisions. Read more from the Guardian by following the link below. 

Brasenose College in Oxford

Oxford Graduate sues university for failure to get a first

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

“If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed.”

I'd like to think that Mark Twain wouldn't mind if we exchanged the word "newspaper" for "Google" in the above, given the current popularity of digital as opposed to print media, the sentiment is still the same.  So with Twain's caveat firmly in mind you might like to read Carole Cadwalladr's sobering article in the Guardian on Google, the internet and searching.

Cadwalladr begins her journey of enlightenment into the ways of Google, algorithms and data mining with an innocuous search that is "autocompleted" by Google.  She then outlines the many processes that can allow persons, organisations or political movements to manipulate information and therefore potentially, control how we think, or even how we vote.

Too far-fetched for you? The article lays out, in some detail, the many insidious practices that can potentially allow us to be controlled by information that is fed to us by design rather than serendipity.

For the full article please follow the link below:

Google, democracy and the truth about internet search

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Mass learning means web-based learning

Writing in the Times Higher Education (THS) today Laurence Brockliss argues that because UK public financial support has not risen commensurately with the number of students in full-time education, it is time for well-established universities to embrace web-based learning in order to deliver an entirely different type of mass higher education. He claims that because universities have made huge investments in buildings, equipment and administration they prefer to steer clear of digital revolutions. Read more by following the link below or registering for a free account with the TLS.

James Minchall illustration (24 November 2016)
Web-based mass learning

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Vitae for Researchers

There's help out there for researchers in the form of Vitae, a website which provides material to guide users through every step of the research process. There's information and advice for those starting out on a doctorate, from writing the research proposal, to raising your profile and securing academic work after completing the doctorate. Follow the link below to sign up for a free account. Registering allows you to access more content. 

Advice and resources - by topic

Vitae for Researchers

Monday, 21 November 2016

It’s not that I’m cynical, but….

Yet another set of world, or in this case “global” rankings to make third level institutions  who didn’t quite make the cut feel slightly more inferior.  This time, it’s all about which institutions produce the most employable graduates.  The usual suspects, like Cal Tech and MIT populate the top ten spots, with Trinity College Dublin flying the flag for Ireland in 134th spot.  Before you become too downcast and wonder why the rest of us bother, take a look at the methodology used to generate the data, the rankings might be less “global” than you think.

Follow the link below to access the full article.  The methodology is at the very end, after the table of results.

The Global University Employability Ranking 2016

You may need to register (for free) to access this article.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

HEA Review of Institutes of Technology

The Higher Education Authority recently published its financial review of the Institutes of Technology sector in Ireland. With some Institutes of Technology set to merge and seek Technological University status, the review sought to assess the overall financial health of the sector. The review expressed major concerns over the future of up to 10 of the country’s 14 institutes of technology due to financial deficits and dwindling cash reserves. Six institutes of technology are “vulnerable” and face immediate sustainability challenges: Letterkenny, Tralee, Galway-Mayo, Waterford, Dundalk and Cork institutes of technology. To read the report go to the HEA link below or follow a link to an article at the Irish Times.  

The GMIT  campus in Galway: it  is one of the institutes identified as  “vulnerable” and facing an immediate sustainability challenge. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

HEA Financial Review

Irish Times article

Thursday, 10 November 2016

'Blended learners' less engaged!

A recent US student survey carried out by the Times Higher Education has shown that students on blended learning courses are generally less engaged with the teaching at their institution than their counterparts taking purely online or purely face-to-face degrees. The survey was based on 100,000 students and the results may question the notion that blended learning could result in a “great revolution in university teaching”. Students undertaking courses that combine both online delivery with face-to-face interaction were less likely to say that they felt prepared for a career, were challenged by the teaching, were able to apply their learning to the real world, could make connections among things they learned, or were able to learn critical thinking skills. Read more results from the survey by following the link below. You may have to register for an account with the journal to see the article.  

fish in water mask

'Blended learners' less engaged

Friday, 28 October 2016

The future for engineering

Writing in the THES today five engineers set out why engineering is part of our everyday lives and what universities can do to change the way it is taught. The article claims that engineering is widely misunderstood by the public which may go some way to explaining why it remains relatively unpopular with students and in particular female students.  At a time when more engineers are needed, this failure to tap into 40 per cent of the intellectual capital is a problem. Read more from this interesting article by following the link below. You may need to register for an account to view the article. 

Tunnel opening, Crossrail tunnel, Canning Town, London

The future for engineering

Retaining women in engineering

A blog posting in the Times Higher Education today calls for more to be done to tackle attitudes and engage women in engineering after research shows that talented and interested women are leaving engineering at higher rates than men. Over 700 engineering students were followed across four universities in the US and the resulting research claims that many female engineering students had reported isolation and ‘blatant sexual harassment’ among the reasons for considering leaving the discipline. Read more by following the link below.

Female engineer measuring voltage on conductor board

Retaining women in education

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Dodgy research and cheating students!

Cheating sites devalue the work of honest students and risk making degrees worthless. So says an academic writing in the Guardian Higher Education Network this week. Dr Thomas Lancaster from Coventry University claims in his piece that if students know where to look, they can source a 2,000-word, original, written-to-order essay directly from an individual for £20. Lancaster calls for universities to fight back against this damaging industry. Elsewhere in the Guardian academics rail against the Research Excellence Framework and claim that it completely undermines efforts to produce a reliable body of knowledge. Read more by following the links below. 

Murky business of buying essays

Dodgy research

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Archiving and Google

One of the main attractions of a database is its archive, but over the years Google appears to have let its archive slip away.

When Google began, it undertook to archive older material but over the years it has stopped this practice.  For more information on Google's policy changes you might like to read Andy Baio's post. The post also includes links to some internet archives.  

Monday, 24 October 2016

Maximising your digital profile

I can’t envisage myself stealthily roaming the digital profiles of my academic colleagues anytime soon, but there is something to be said for presenting yourself and your research in the best light possible.  Particularly in the increasingly important digital environment. David Matthews, writing in THES outlines a project that is currently running in Queensland University of Technology (QUT). It involves librarians auditing the digital profiles of researchers with a view to suggesting some improvements.

For the complete article please follow the link below.

For those of you how would like to know more about creating or improving your digital presence  read Andy Miah’s blog

A new perspective on collaborative learning...

For a look at innovative collaborative learning, it’s worth reading about the experiences of students and academics at Pratt Institute, New York and Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA.
The idea of taking students from different fields of study and bringing them together to work in a project based learning environment, isn’t that ground breaking.  However add to that, the students are coming from very different institutions, that there is no syllabus and no metric to measure success or failure and you will begin to understand the uniqueness of the situation,  and the potential for learning that can happen in such an environment. 

For further details please follow the link to the article by Simon & Schutte in THES.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Brexit, financial woes and university rankings...

If you’re looking for information on three very popular news topics in one place then Carl O’Brien’s article on Brexit, the funding of Irish universities and university rankings in the Irish Times will suit.  He looks at the impact of Brexit on the plight of some 2500 British students studying in the Republic, and that of the 11,500 Irish students currently studying in the UK.

He highlights how the current financial woes of the third level sector could see Irish colleges miss out on a potential Brexit windfall, mainly due to lack of funding, and then manages to squeeze in a reference to the continuing decent of Irish universities in world university rankings.

For the full article please click on the following link.

For further details on the report by Peter Cassells into the funding of third level colleges in Ireland please click on the link below.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Contract cheating - "a deceptive industry"

I’ve seen advertisements for complete academic essays or assignments for a “reasonable fee”.  These adverts are usually online, but I’ve no doubt that a quick look at notice boards around most third level colleges would reveal the same services, offering to help anxious students who are trying to meet looming deadlines. 

I hadn’t realised that the chance of being caught cheating is just one of the downsides to engaging with these services.  According to Dr Thomas Lancaster, writing in the Guardian, students could also face being blackmailed.

For more information on the subject of contract cheating please follow the link to Dr Lancaster’s article.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Should we have replication or novelty in our research?

In the Guardian Higher Education network this week, two academics ask "why is so much research dodgy?" They go on to blame the Research Excellence Framework because they say it encourages novelty but offers no incentive to replicate studies – thereby undermining efforts to produce a reliable body of knowledge. Potential solutions are offered in the article. Read more by following the link below.

2 + 2 = 5

Why is so much research dodgy?

Friday, 14 October 2016

Much needed investment in Irish HE

After almost a decade of cuts, Irish Higher Education is set to receive its first significant funding increase. The Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, has pledged that an additional €36 million allocated to higher education in 2017 will rise by another €17 million in 2018 and a further €17 million in the following year. This, he said, would gives colleges and universities greater certainty in planning for the coming years. Read more from The Irish Times by following the links below.

Numbers entering primary school and secondary level are set to grow by an extra 12,000 next year alone. Photograph: iStock

Increases in funding for Irish HE

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Are universities being robbed of their social role?

An article in the Guardian today warns that the social role of universities is being overlooked as the government pushes ahead with its marketisation of the sector. Bill Rammell argues that universities make an enormous contribution to civil society, not only through providing education opportunities and extending knowledge through research, but in their engagement with communities, their international networks, and the fostering of open public debate. He expresses concern that by relying too heavily on market mechanisms to drive reform, we are in danger of losing the historic public benefits of higher education. Read more by following the link below. 

iCub robot

Social role for universities

Monday, 3 October 2016

The best online study tools

Online supports are revolutionising learning and they may even be making learning more enjoyable. An article in the Irish Times today explores some of the online learning tools available by asking students for their thoughts on the best resources and how they help with learning, teaching and revising. Leaving and Junior Cert pupils are taking to Khan Academy,,, the Eir Study Hub and more to complement what they learn in class. Read more by following the link below.

Image result

Friday, 30 September 2016

English universities to be rated

The Guardian today reports that as part of the government's teaching excellence framework, English universities will, from the middle of next year, be rated gold, silver and bronze. The universities minister has said that he believes the framework will give students clear, understandable information about where the best teaching is on offer but some critics have argued that the indicators used will not directly measure teaching quality.  The rankings will be awarded by a panel of assessors, will last for up to three years and will be based on statistics including dropout rates, student satisfaction survey results and graduate employment rates, including the proportion of graduates who go on to work in high-skill jobs. Read more by following the link below to the Guardian Higher Education pages.

London 2012 medals

Olympic ratings for English universities

Friday, 16 September 2016

Irish education spending low by OECD standards

The Irish Times reports today that state spending on Irish education decreased during the recession and is now lower than most countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The figures come from the recently published OECD indicators 'Education at a glance 2016' available at the link below. Read more at the Irish Times below.

Image result for image children at school
Irish education spending low

Education at a glance 2016

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Are university safe spaces shutting down debate?

The Guardian Higher Education today reports that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has criticised university 'safe spaces' arguing that they have shut down debate. Safe spaces were designed to ensure debate does not cause offence to students in universities. May suggested that they could potentially constrain innovation of thought and harm the country's economic and social development adding 'we want to see that innovation of thought taking place in our universities'. Read more by following the link below. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Universities failing to make use of Twitter

A recent report, published in the journal Innovative Higher Education, has carried out an analysis of the Twitter accounts of over two thousand US higher education providers and has found that they were largely used to broadcast information or to highlight positive aspects of their institution. There were fewer examples of institutions utilising Twitter to reach out to the wider community to engage in dialogue or debate. The report suggested that universities could help people interact and learn from one another and could share practical knowledge with communities that might benefit from the research conducted at the university. Read more below at the Times Higher Education (sign up for free access).

Twitter icon on smartphone screen

Universities using Twitter

Surviving a postgraduate dissertation

The Guardian Higher Education has asked some recent postgraduate students how they survived their studies and by following the link below you can read some of their shared anecdotes and advice. For some, finishing a master’s means living in the library while for others 'boredom is inevitable'. From the best way to organise your notes to framing an argument, there are some useful tips here for those starting out on the journey.

Man asleep
Surviving a Master's

Friday, 10 June 2016

What has changed for female academics?

An interesting article in the Times Higher Education today highlights the issue of gender equity in higher education with a specific look at the career of Stanford academic Myra Strober and the difficulties she encountered as a woman pursuing her career in academia. She argues that while women have undoubtedly become far better represented in higher education than they were in 1970, progress has been uneven across fields and women are still far from parity with men with respect to faculty positions. She also contends that while men's academic careers benefit from having children, female faculty continue to be penalised for being mothers. Her book "Sharing the work" is published in June.

Collage of polaroid photos of demonstrators, 1960s/1970s

Have things changed for female academics?

Friday, 27 May 2016

Most cited publications in the social sciences

A recent post on the London School of Economics Impact Blog has identified the most cited publications in the social sciences. Using Google Scholar and drawing on citation data that spans disciplines and time periods, Elliott Green shares his findings on the 25 most cited books as well as the top ten journal articles. There has been an increasing focus on citations as a measure of academic productivity in recent years but comparatively little attention to examining what publications actually obtain huge citation counts. Follow the link below to see which education books are cited most frequently.


Most cited puiblications

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Independent learning - a black hole?

An opinion piece in the The Irish Times today claims that we need to find out what exactly our students are doing when they are learning independently. In the modern modular system that our third level institutions have adopted the prevailing mode of learning is considered to be independent or "autonomous learning”, with an expectation that students will spend more than 30 hours per week learning independently. The author argues that the concept of independent learning is ill-defined and lies at the heart of many of the difficulties we are encountering in third-level education. He also claims that regardless of the finer points of how we currently view and define independent learning, we know both anecdotally and from the Irish Survey of Student Engagement that most students do nowhere near the amount of independent learning that is theoretically expected of them. Read more of this interesting article by following the link below. 

Photograph: iStock

Black hole of independent learning

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Academic publishers, what would we do without them?

The answer appears to be - not very much, according to Stephen Lotinga’s piece in the Guardian.  Lotinga, the Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, enumerates the essential services that publishers provide to the research community. For example; peer-review, data driven metrics and provision of the technology that makes such research discoverable. Such benevolence, one could almost forget that money changes hands…

Monday, 23 May 2016

Elsevier purchases SSRN...

So when does open access become limited access? Perhaps when the open access network in question is purchased by a very large well known academic publisher?  Which is just what's happened, with Elsevier recently purchasing SSRN.

Some background information on the Social Science Research Network SSRN…
SSRN is a world-wide collaboration of some 308,800 authors and 2.2 million users.  It is largely an open access resource, with most of its 670,000 abstracts and 560,800 downloadable, full text documents available free of charge. Like most open access resources, authors can submit their pre-published papers free of charge and thus research results are disseminated to the wider research community.

When you consider that the very reason the likes of SSRN, ResearchGate and were created was to reduce the control that commercial publishers have over research output, you can see why authors, researchers and users are very concerned by this development.

Reading the press release on the SSRN website, you could be forgiven for only seeing the benefits of such a purchase, but for whom?  Elsevier already purchased Mendeley, which provides access to medical, technical and scientific information.  Would it be too cynical to suggest that Elsevier have covered their bases with the purchase of both a social science and a scientific network? And, will they stop there?

If I held such a view I wouldn’t be alone.  David Matthews of the THES quotes a number of researchers expressing a similar view.  Despite reassurances from Elsevier and SSRN, the research community isn’t convinced that Elsevier’s actions are selfless. 

For the full text of David Matthew’s piece, please follow the link below.

Relevant Links

The knowledge economy is a myth. We don’t need more universities to feed it

More universities equals more qualified people and a thriving knowledge economy? Or not, says Andre Spicer, writing in the Guardian.  Gathering statistics from various reports, he maintains that there is evidence to show that the knowledge economy doesn’t exist.  For example, for every high skilled job requiring a degree there are a further three, low skill-level jobs that don’t.

Statistics from the US show that 43% of jobs only require a high-school education, with 20% requiring a bachelor’s degree.  Meanwhile 40% of young people are studying for a degree which could potentially lead to a large number of disillusioned and indebted young people.

Spicer calls into question whether or not universities are fulfilling their brief.  Referring to a recent study, he states that after two years at university 45% of students showed no improvement in their cognitive skills.  While after four years, 36% had not improved their ability to think and analyse problems.

His criticism of the university sector doesn’t stop there. The cost of funding a university degree has grown on both sides of the Atlantic, and Spicer states that the money isn’t being funnelled back into teaching, but is being spent on lavish facilities and expensive branding.

His article is a response to UK government plans to expand the university sector, but it does make for interesting, if not, a little one-sided reading.  The knowledge economy as myth isn’t a new idea, and if you follow some of the embedded links in the article you can understand his point of view.

Full article available at  The knowledge economy is a myth....

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Does working as a group help us learn?

With universities and employers attaching high value to 'teamwork skills' the Guardian asks, does collaboration really benefit our learning or is it more beneficial to go it alone? In our increasingly interconnected society, learning how to be part of a group is perhaps something worth working on. Follow the link below to see a list of some of the pros and cons of teamwork. 

 In our increasingly interconnected society, learning how to be part of a group is something worth working on.

Does working as a group help us learn?

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Peer review, but not as you know it....

There has been plenty of debate around the necessity and rigour of the peer review process.  Opinions vary from it being a fundamental principle of good research to it being a roadblock to the sharing of knowledge. Perhaps this debate has prompted Springer Nature to publish a new journal called Research Integrity and Peer Review.  This new journal hopes to examine all aspects of the scientific process from the award of grants to publication and peer review.  The article, in the THES, reflects on the recent controversies and developments surrounding the peer review process such as post publication peer review and open peer review. 
The article also mentions the problems associated with retracted papers and their, often, continued use as valid sources of information within a research community.

For full details please follow the link below.

World's Most Prestigious Universities

THES has released yet another world university ranking.  This time, it’s based on the opinion of 10,000 top scholars from around the world. Participants were asked to select 15 universities that they believe are best in the fields of research and teaching. The poll, known as the World’s Most Prestigious Universities, doesn't really hold any surprises, with Harvard, MIT and the Oxbridge colleges taking the top spots, while Asian universities continue to increase their presence and overall standings in the ranking.

For full details please follow the link below.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Students stay away from lectures

Paul Donovan writing in the Irish Times today, reports that classrooms which were full to bursting at the start of the new academic year last September are now sitting half-empty as anecdotal evidence suggests that one in every two students are not attending lectures. Recognising that there is a problem, the Higher Education Authority has published The Report of the Working Group on Student Engagement which proposes more student participation in the governance of higher-education institutions. President Higgins recently stated that higher education is not about producing graduates for the market but about fostering life-enhancing skills such as critical thinking and creativity but if students are not attending lectures is it because they think they can still win without actually coming to class? Donovan suggests that we need to ask again the fundamental questions about the purpose of a university education. Read more of this interesting article by following the link below.

Photograph: Thinkstock

Friday, 29 April 2016

Pick'n' Mix Degrees

The Irish Times reports today on the 'credit accumulation' system now available for undergraduates at many Irish third level institutions. While this flexibility in course choice was already commonplace in the US and Canada, it was only introduced to Ireland in 1995 with the Horizons programme in UCD. Increasingly, students can effectively “pick and mix” their own degree programme, with more options than ever before. In 2017 Maynooth University will for the first time allow students to choose arts and science subjects together. As Professor Philip Nolan explains 'it came about because there was a concern emerging that graduates really need to be flexible and adaptable and to be able to look at issues from different perspectives, but the curriculum was quite rigid. We wanted to address this, giving students flexibility and choice in terms of their options and encouraging them to look outside their core area, gain fresh perspectives and spark new intellectual interest'. Read more of this article by following the link below.

Photograph: Thinkstock
Students choosing to mix their degrees

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

PhDs: 'Toxic' supervisors & 'students from hell'

While it is the case that many supervisor-PhD student relationships can be hugely rewarding for both parties, often leading to groundbreaking research and years of fruitful academic collaboration, there are other cases where these relationships can break down and end in bitter acrimony. The recent annual conference of the Association of University Administrators in the UK addressed some of these issues. Jean Grier said that universities need to assess what mechanisms and training they have in place to guard against the small number of cases where these strained relationships develop, while Gina Wisker, who has researched the area of PhD dropout, argued that it was also necessary to recognise the fact that some academics are just not suited to the demands of supervising PhD students. Read more of this article by following the link below.  

Institutes attracting local disadvantaged students

The Irish Times reports today that students living in relatively disadvantaged areas of Dublin are more likely to go on to third-level if they live close to a college. Data collected from student grant applications shows higher participation rates in the Blanchardstown and Tallaght areas, which have institutes of technology.  Both colleges have forged close links with primary and secondary schools in an attempt to make them more accessible to the wider community and initiatives such as third level students volunteering their time to help local Leaving Cert students with maths and other subjects has helped to raise expectations for school leavers. Follow the links below to read more. 

A breakdown of student grant data shows higher third-level participation rates in the Blanchardstown and Tallaght areas, which have institutes of technology. File photograph: Chris Ison/PA Wire

Institutes play key role attracting local students

Proximity to college raises chance of disadvantaged

Monday, 25 April 2016

The “new” social media…

Just when you thought you had social media for the campus covered by using Facebook and Twitter, it seems that students have moved on.  Jack Gove provides a dizzying list of the new social media “thing”, or “things”, because there really are quite a few.  You may be familiar with some of them, for example Snapchat and Instagram, but there’s also Peach and YikYak, to name but a few.

If you would like to know more, follow the link to the full article.

How would you feel if Big Brother was watching you learn?

Chris Havergal writes that the Open University is considering monitoring student emotions in an effort to detect potential dropouts from its online courses. While lecturers in face to face situations are in a better position to monitor students’ emotional responses to lectures, this isn’t possible in the online environment. The process could involve using webcams to monitor facial expression and emotions.  According to the article, the software that would allow this kind of monitoring is currently in development.
Students would be aware of the monitoring, but how would they feel about the potential breech of their privacy? After all, one of the many benefits to studying online is that you can learn at any time, in a relaxed atmosphere.  Being monitored may not be conducive to a relaxed or informal atmosphere. Other researchers are looking into other, less invasive, methods of monitoring.

For the full article please follow the link below.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Standing up to greedy academic publishers

The issue of how research is communicated in society raises questions that cut to the heart of what academics do, and what academia is about. Jonathan Gray writing in the Guardian today, asks the questions, does our scholarly communication system put the needs of researchers first? Or does it prioritise the uninterrupted profitability of a handful of big publishers? According to Gray the UK’s higher education institutions spend more than £180m on journal subscriptions every year and the largest share of this goes to four publishers. Librarians at some of the world’s wealthiest institutions have announced that they can no longer afford to purchase the materials their researchers need. So, who is serving whom? Read more of this article and the debate around it by following the link below.

Numbers printed on roll of paper

Standing up to greedy publishers!

Undergraduates 'poorly prepared for PhDs'

As universities prepare for a new government loan scheme in the UK that could help more students enter doctoral study, a conference has heard that the heavily structured nature of undergraduate study does not prepare students for a PhD and that many students undertaking PhDs are “less confident” and "less standalone" than those in past cohorts. Professor Alison Hodge from Aston University warned that with the expansion in student numbers more students are embarking on a PhD than before, but not all of those had the independence, self-reliance and “slightly rebellious” streak needed to get through a doctorate. Read more at the link below.

Track runner slow off the starting blocks

Undergraduates "poorly prepared for PhDs"

Friday, 15 April 2016

Stamping out cheating in online assessment

A new European Union funded initiative aims to revolutionise online assessment by combining anti-plagiarism software with facial, voice and keystroke identification technology. It is hoped that this combination of multiple technologies will make Adaptive Trust-based E-assessment System for Learning (Tesla) more powerful and reliable than existing anti-cheating systems. As well as combating cheating, it is hoped that it will help to encourage more universities to launch online courses, and enable students to take elective modules from international higher education institutions.Read more from the Times Higher Education below. 

Person holding model in front of Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Stamping out cheating

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Universities facing an intellectual crisis

Speaking at the recent European Universities Association conference President Michael D Higgins has said that universities are facing an "intellectual crisis" over their role in society. Arguing that a core function of the university was to foster the capacity to dissent he said that an increasing focus on producing graduates solely for the labour market was bringing universities down a “precarious road” at the expense of fostering life-enhancing skills such as critical thinking and creativity. The Times Higher Education explores similar issues with an article about the need to foster reading skills in sixth-formers before they enter university. Academics are concerned that it represents a significant loss to the educational process when students are failing to engage with extended arguments, read around the core texts or reflect on the history and ethical dilemmas of their disciplines. Read these thought provoking articles by following the links below.

Books arranged on table in shape of heart

Universities facing intellectual crisis

Books for sixth-formers

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Irish third-level courses in crisis

According to a recent report commissioned by Quality and Qualifications Ireland, spending cuts in Irish higher education have pushed some third-level college courses to “crisis point”, with serious implications for their future sustainability. Some of the areas highlighted as being of particular concern include the cumulative effects of reduced funding, lower staff numbers, increased teaching burdens and the casualisation of staffing and promotion limitations. The report is based on a review of the quality of teaching and learning in academic departments, schools and programmes in public higher education institutions. Read more at the Irish Times by following the link below.

Spending cuts have pushed some third-level college courses to ‘crisis point’, with serious implications for their future sustainability, according to a new report. File photograph: Getty Images

Irish third-level courses in crisis!

Are academic social networks too commercial?

An interesting article in the Times Higher Education today asks if academic social networking platforms like or ResearchGate are truly in the interests of the academic. Academic social networks allow researchers to post, share, collate and recommend papers and typically present themselves as proponents of open access. The author argues that while many of their members assume that the papers they post on them will be freely available, some of the barriers imposed by both and ResearchGate on the reuse of user profile data, the downloading of documents and the use of open licences mean that they do not meet the requirements of standard open access policies. Furthermore others have questioned whether academics should put their academic labour in the form of research and data into the hands of companies whose primary goal is not to help academics to communicate but to monetise that communication in the interests of investors. Read more by following the link below. 

Roy Scott illustration (7 April 2016)

Are academic social networks too commercial?

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Does group work mean group learning?

The success of group work or project can vary depending on a number of factors.  According to Dean Burnett of the Guardian, factors such as motivation, division of labour and enthusiasm may influence how and when the work will be done.  While factors such as group polarization and informational influence can determine the accuracy of the results.
Whether or not group work helps with learning remains to be seen as the influences at play can vary from group to group.  However, the social aspects and the potential for people to focus on and excel in the tasks they do well can only be a positive thing.  Burnett goes on to say that being able to work as part of a group is seen as an important skill by potential employers and is therefore worthwhile for that aspect alone.
If you are interested in maximising learning through group projects you might like to read Learning in groups: a handbook for face-to-face and online environments, by David Jaques.
For a multidisciplinary approach, Cooperative learning in higher education: across the disciplines, across the academy, edited by Barbara J. Millis is a good choice.
For a quick refresher please see Peter Harley’s Success in groupwork (pocket skills).

For the full article:  Does working as a group actually help us learn?

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

New research methods for new universities

Using mobile phones to research how university students behave and interact with learning materials could provide us with more accurate information than traditional research methods, says Peter Coaldrake from the Queensland University of Technology.  Coaldrake was speaking at the Young University Summit in Barcelona this week and used research undertaken at his own university to illustrate his point.
The study tracked 50,000 students by using their mobile phones.  The study took place over a 1 day period, and the results included details of when the students attended the campus, where they went, including libraries and social areas and how the accessed their learning materials.

This data provided valuable information that would help to focus investment in specific areas and facilities to improve learning and the student experience.

For more on Professor Coaldrake's research methods please see the article by Jack Grove of THES 

Practical tips for writing your PhD...

Ingrid Curl provides some practical advice for writing a PhD thesis. While drawing on tips from literary greats such as Hemingway, Twain and Orwell, she reminds us that academic writing should be clear, concise and jargon free.  This short, but informative article also covers referencing, house styles and avoiding plagiarism.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Status anxiety 'harms university cooperation'

A recent report has cited 'snobbish attitudes among some universities towards their less prestigious peers' as being responsible for preventing more meaningful cooperation between institutions. The Leadership Foundation for Higher Education report also claims that negative views of universities based on their 'lower prestige' might be harming efforts to bring together universities, business and government to boost local economic growth. While the report acknowledges that university prestige can be a positive force and can do many wonderful things for universities, it can also 'mean the university system as a whole is neglected'. Read more below.

Red carpet

Status anxiety can harm university cooperation

Monday, 4 April 2016

Target-led university culture examined in major study

A new study is hoping to capture the wider impact of a target-led performance management culture on staff, students and the university more generally. Newcastle University’s Raising the Bar (RTB) initiative, in which research-active staff have been set “minimum expectations” for grant income, will explore how it alters academics’ working practices, well-being and approach to research. The study will also record its influence on staff-student relations, teaching, the university’s collegiate atmosphere and workload in an attempt to assess the “human dimension” of the initiative. Potentially the study will offer a new perspective on whether audit-led change really produces positive results in higher education. Read more by following the link below. 

Man dressed as target hit by thrown paper aeroplanes

How to avoid the five biggest reading mistakes

An article in the Times Higher Education today looks at the five biggest reading mistakes and how to avoid them. The author suggests that many doctoral students have difficulty starting and completing their thesis and she attributes some of those difficulties with their reading techniques. The article looks at skim reading, speed reading and our fear of missing that important piece of work. Read more below.

A woman reading a book with her feet up

Five biggest reading mistakes

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Trinity accused of trying to influence world university rankings

The Irish Times reports today that Trinity College Dublin has been accused of trying to sway world university rankings. While the rankings are considered vital in the race to attract international students, in recent years Irish universities have been sliding down the rankings. One of the main producers of the rankings has accused TCD of violating its rules by influencing academics involved in its annual survey.  In a statement they claimed that they had been made aware of “misguided and naive” communications from TCD which appeared to contravene guidelines aimed at protecting the accuracy of its university rankings. Meanwhile TCD said it regretted the letters to academics and claimed that at no stage were they intended to influence the response of the recipients. Read more from the Irish Times below.

 Trinity College Dublin. In a statement, the college  said it regretted the letters to academics and said at no stage were they intended to influence the response of the recipients.  Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Trinity accused of influencing rankings

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Third level colleges face penalties over 'poor performance'

The Irish Times reports today that three colleges which have performed poorly in a new assessment process for the higher education sector face financial penalties running into hundreds of thousands of euro. Unless they tackle deficiencies in a number of areas, GMIT, Dundalk Institute of Technology and NCAD have been warned they could lose €1m in State funding. The decision to withhold funding from some will be controversial given that the three colleges which face penalties are in financially vulnerable positions as they struggle to cope with cuts in State funding and rising student numbers. Read more below by following the link.

The decision to withhold funding from some third-level institutions will be controversial given that the three colleges which face penalties are in financially vulnerable positions as they struggle to cope with cuts in State funding and rising student numbers. Photograph: Eric Luke

Three colleges face funding cuts

Monday, 14 March 2016

Open access/open research

It stands to reason that large commercial companies would have serious issues with their business model being made obsolete by hackers, but the problem for publishers isn’t outside their industry.  The problem appears to be that many insiders- academics who produce the material- want their research to be made available to a much wider audience.
The US government has gotten behind the idea of open science, by insisting that all government funded research should be open access.  Unesco, the Gates Foundation and the European Commission have followed suit. Many libraries now have institutional repositories that provide free access to the published works of their academic staff.

Support for open science and open access across the academic and research community is widening, and with the development of sites like Sci-Hub (now closed) publishers may have to rethink their business model.

For further information on open science please see the link the John Willinsky article in THE.

If you would like more information on how DIT supports open access research please click on the link to Arrow@DIT

10 years of Twitter

Twitter celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.  It boasts 320 million monthly users, who include people from across a wide spectrum of social, commercial, political and academic backgrounds.  People use Twitter to advertise, share, connect and comment on their daily lives. According to THE it can also help you to complete your PhD.  Some PhD students are using Twitter to make connections with researchers in the same field. They are also using it to combat the loneliness that is sometimes experienced by PhD students who can feel that they are working alone.

For details of some popular academic Twitter accounts see the article by Jack Groves of THE.

Top 200 Universities in Europe

It’s the time of year when details of the top universities in Europe are announced, and Ellie Bothwell, writing in THE, provides us with a full list of the top 200.  The deciding criteria include teaching, research and the publishing output of academics (citation and impact factors).  The UK and Germany represent almost half of the top 200 closely followed by Italy.  The article provides lots of useful links, including a link to the methodology used to compile the rankings.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Living without PowerPoint

There is no doubt that PowerPoint is an excellent tool to help get your message across to an audience.  However, many will have heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint”, referring to its almost ubiquitous use at every conference, lecture and workshop.   Gary Rawnsley, of THE, writes that the proliferation of PowerPoint slides among academics may lead to an over reliance on the tool by future generations of students and researchers.  These students and researchers may possibly come to doubt their own ability to communicate research or ideas without it.
While Rawnsley suggests looking at other tools he also reminds us that it is possible to present ideas and research without them.  For further comment please see

There are some are some excellent titles in the library to help you improve your presentations.  If you want to try going PowerPoint-less; Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte (available in Bolton Street library 808.51) might be a good place to start.

There are also some good website sites that can help you.  For example this article, originally published in 2011 by Forbes is worth a look.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Funding in higher education

Something that will affect all aspects of work in higher education is an increase in student numbers. And with the recent large increase in CAO applications the impact is set to become much more immediate.  Carl O’Brien, writing in the Irish Times, highlights some of the problems that are facing third level institutions, particularly IOTs.

Facilities and services are already spread too thinly, a situation that has been compounded by consistent underfunding and under staffing within the third level sector.  How these challenges will be met remains to be seen as the sector waits for the report from the expert group on funding in higher education to publish its recommendations.
Higher education sector under pressure as never before

For further information on CAO applications for 2016 please click on the link below:

CAO Applications 2016

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Gender bias and RateMyProfessor

Research carried out on the RateMyProfessor website has highlighted a potential gender bias on the part of student reviewers.  An analysis of the comments section showed that students are more likely to use words like “brilliance” and “genius” when reviewing male professors. Whether or not the bias is based on gender or on a wider cultural issue within a specific discipline is difficult to say, but the study provides details and analysis  of the student reviews. 
For further comment see the Times Higher Education Supplement.
For full research findings please see PLOS ONE

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

International Women's Day: being female in academia

Articles in both the Times Higher Education and the Guardian today refer to International Women's Day with the THE highlighting a report by the University and College Union which names and shames several universities for having the largest gender pay gaps in higher education. At the University of Leicester the overall gender pay gap among academic staff in higher education was £6,103, says the analysis of pay data for the 2013-14 academic year. Also Jenny Pickerill reflects in a separate article on how to overcome sexism and stereotypes in higher education. Over at the Guardian a live Q&A asks how far have we come on gender equality in HE? All three articles are accessible below.

gender pay gap

THE being female in academia

THE - Pay inequality universities named and shamed

International Women's Day debate at the Guardian

Monday, 7 March 2016

Publish ideas from scholarly articles early

A recent Jisc conference was told that academics should be encouraged to openly publish all their research funding proposals, successful or otherwise. Ross Mounce from the University of Cambridge said that free and early dissemination at every stage of the research cycle, including project ideas and experiment designs, would reduce duplication of work and enable scholars to find potential collaborators more easily. He added '“by publishing your ideas, you are securing your ownership of that idea and it prevents plagiarism,”. Read more at the THE below.  

Books on head-shaped shelving

Publish ideas from scholarly articles early..

Friday, 4 March 2016

The role of ego in academic profiling services

Academic profiling services are a pervasive feature of scholarly life and in this article on the LSE Impact blog several writers discuss the advantages and disadvantages of major profile platforms and look at the role of ego in how these services are built and used. Some of the platforms considered include Google Scholar, ResearchGate, Mendeley and Researcher ID. Scholars validate these services by using them and should be aware that the portraits shown in these platforms depend to a great extent on the characteristics of the “mirrors” themselves. Read more by following the link below.

The role of ego in academic profile services: Comparing Google Scholar, ResearchGate, Mendeley, and ResearcherID

The role of ego in academic profiling services

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Write a killer conference abstract

Writing on the LSE impact blog, Helen Kara responds to the blog's previously published guide to writing abstracts and elaborates specifically on the differences for conference abstracts. She offers tips for writing an enticing abstract for conference organisers and an engaging conference presentation. Read more of her article and others like it by clicking on the link below.

Write a killer conference abstract

LSE Impact blog for academic research

The London School of Economics Impact blog is an excellent source of information on academic research and is a hub for researchers, academics, librarians, students, think-tanks or anyone interested in maximising the impact of academic work in the social sciences and other disciplines. The site encourages participation and debate and aims to share best practice and keep the impact community up to date with news, events and the latest research. Click on the link below to connect. 

mad mathematicians_milena featured

LSE Impact blog

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Robot librarian - coming to a library near you

A robot librarian has been designed by Aberystwyth University students who combined existing robot technology with information from the university’s online library search facility to create their brainchild. “Hugh”, an artificially intelligent library catalogue, will be able to take verbal book requests, work out where the hard copy is and lead students to the relevant bookshelf. Although the model requires some perfecting, the students who designed the robot believe that the design could be one of a line of robots that could undertake specific tasks in places such as hospitals, care homes and supermarkets. He even has his own website! Read more below.

Students at Aberystwyth University design librarian robot

Robot librarian

Hugh's home page

Are PhD vivas unfair?

In the Guardian today a PhD student argues for an urgent reform of the viva process claiming that the system needs to be more balanced and PhD examiners more accountable. The author writes a critical account of their own experience and questions how the system can allow students to study for four years, pass all preliminary checks, and yet leave without any qualification. As it stands the current system means that the academic judgement of examiners cannot be challenged. Read more by following the link below. 

‘All I can do is cross my fingers that it will all work out for the best.’

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Increase your academic profile using social media

Are you interested in using social media to increase your academic profile?  @TheLitCritGuy outlines the potential benefits of using social media to increase your academic profile. As the potential author you get to set the agenda and direct the debate around topics.  Formats such as twitter can provide some level of anonymity, giving greater freedom in terms of expressing opinions or particular views.  He makes a number of useful suggestions that might help to maximise your chances of success.

The full article is available on line.

Neuromyths debunked

Bradley Busch sets out to dispel some well-known myths about student learning and other so called neuromyths.  As with all research, things are rarely black and white, but Busch presents compelling evidence to suggest that even some well-established ideas are simply untrue. For example, the theory that by matching teaching style to a student’s learning style (VAK) will improve learning outcomes.  An alarming 93% of teachers in the UK believe this myth. According to Lia Commissar, from the Wellcome Trust, these ideas appear to fit our observations and therefore gain more credence, despite that fact that there is no scientific evidence to support such theories.The article goes on to dispel some other widely held beliefs including one which states that we only use 10% or our brain.  This particular myth is erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein.The article concludes with a warning to teaching professionals to remain objective and use critical thinking when it comes to using psychology or neuroscience to improve teaching practice.

For more on dispelling other well-known myths, please click the link below...

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

How to get your first academic paper published

Writing in the Times Higher Education today, Kevin O'Gorman offers 10 tips on securing your first academic publication. Recognising that getting your first paper published can be a challenge, he offers some practical and useful advice. Follow the link below to the article. O'Gorman also writes for a collaborative blog which offers resources and support for those undertaking a doctorate. Find a link below to 'It’s Not you, It’s Your Data'. If you have any problems with accessing the THE sign up for a free subscription or access it on the library Nexis UK database. 

how to get published academic paper journal

Tips on getting your first paper published

Link to blog..It's not you, it's your data!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Should PhD students publish while they study?

A recent study has suggested that those PhD students who wait to publish their first work until they have their doctorate in hand may be missing out to those who publish while they are still studying. The study claims that those who managed to publish while still PhD students produced about a third (36 per cent) more papers over the course of their careers than those who did not. Their success, it is claimed, shows that they are able to hone their networking, collaboration and writing skills earlier. While some experts warn that it is 'absolutely necessary' for PhD students to publish, critics warn that it can be 'too much, too soon' with students experiencing morale damaging rejection when results aren't sufficiently evidenced. Read more at the Times Higher Education by following the link below or sign up for a free 5-article subscription with the journal.  

PhD lettered on book spine

Should PhD students publish while they study?

How to submit that PhD Thesis

The final few months of a PhD can often be the hardest, so in the Times Higher Education today a doctoral student who recently submitted her thesis offers a few tips on how to get over the finish line. With corrections to be made, references to chase, a bibliography to check and arguments to refine the process can be stressful. As the author suggests, no matter how stressful it is or how tired you are, take enjoyment out of seeing your thesis come together and from the knowledge that the end is in sight. Read more by clicking on the link below. The article can also be accessed from the Nexis UK library database or by signing up for a 5-article free subscription with the THE.

phd good idea finish line final few days

How to submit that PhD