BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Come down now

Today I have a Three Topics:

1. This weekend we went into Dublin to ride the Dublin wheel (a groupon deal), and I must duly give my review. Well, it's located at The Point, next to the O2 Arena... hardly the centre of town, and with the Market closed for winter... it was pretty much a baren location. Which means the only thing you get a view of from the top of the wheel is Aviva Stadium and the docklands.

It is certainly pricey enough, so probably not really worth the visit unless heights are your sort of thing. They aren't my sort of thing, and apparently they are not Nikolai's sort of thing either. He spent the whole time asking to get off, and refusing to look out the windows... one aspect to the "ride" that was good value was the length; we got to go around 5 times... though it's not such a good perk if you have a cagey toddler in your pod.

2. After the wheel, we walked back into town passing by a fab Italian Restaurant. We had fab Italian lattes (and babycinos) served by fab Italian waiters and definitely will be going back. Anyways, while enjoying our break we also skimmed through the papers, glossing over all the pics of the Cork plane crash (the full 5-page graphic spread was not what our toddler needed to see) and landed on a complete break down of election candidates.

And (I'm getting to the punchline now) we discovered, that none of the 5 main parties are running a complete set of candidates. In fact, only Fine Gael are running enough candidates to make up a majority of seats in the Dáil, with the rest of the parties only running between 50-70 candidates for the 166 seats! Inconceivable to a Canadian, where the three "national" parties run candidates for every seat in the House of Commons. Likely this difference is related to the STV electoral system. The article was actually meaning to highlight the LACK of female candidates (just 15% -though I'm not sure of the equivalent ratio in Canada.)

3. Now, to discuss Brad's teaching experience, without giving anything away (yes, the final exam will be REALLY, REALLY TOUGH so get studying!). Brad has gone through the range of emotions that every new teacher surely goes through; the same pattern of evolving pressures (public speaking, test creation, developing lecture and course content, and most impossibly... trying to make sure that you actually do know more than the keeners in your classroom). He also has struggled a bit with differences between the Irish Universities (much more relaxed... and last minute) and Canadian Universities (very formalized... we're sticklers for law and order).

To start off with, even Brad didn't know his final course schedule until the week before he was to teach. And the course schedule was presented in the form of a series of classroom bookings, for which Brad was to breakdown his course into Lectures, Tutorials and Labs. Quite different from the West Coast universities we are used to, where the schedule is made and released a month in advance of the semester start (say June 2010 for spring 2011).

On Tuesday, Brad discovered that the room he was giving his tutorial in was double booked (a result of having separate booking systems for each department). Beyond the booking issue, Brad is teaching a condensed course (1 month long versus 3+ months). This means that students have 6 hours of lecture a week, 2 hours of tutorial and 3 hours of lab (the students will be taking an internship for the remainder of the semester and into the summer. But they only have one other class in addition to Brad's class, so it's not too arduous).

Another interesting difference is the grading system. In Ireland students are assigned one of a few possible grades: fail (less than 40%), Pass/Class III (40-50%), Class II (50-70%), or Class I (above 70%). Arguably this means that students don't have to worry about getting really good grades. Why bother get 90% if a 71% is good enough? However, given the grade inflation issues found in Canadian and American Universities, one could easily argue that grades have really become meaningless. (A quick example comes from our last issue of Macleans University Rankings, showing that nearly all the Universities have an "A" average for their students. Straight "As" hardly mean a thing if over 50% of the people in your class also have straight "As".) I think this could easily be combated by introducing a standardized score (like a z-score) so that student grades reflect their position in the distribution of the class (ie. 60th percentile or the 50th percentile).

However, arguably the system of grading that Brad will be using is also good. It basically provides only one piece of information: does the student have a basic understanding of the material. So when considering taking a student for grad school, professors must rely on more relevant pieces of information (interviews, examples of project work, references). Because, all in all, how well you can accomplish course work hardly indicates whether you have logic, critical thinking, communication skills, leadership, etc.

The photos are from our adventure on the Dublin Wheel.

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