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Returning to education part 4. Watch this video – beware the panic monster!

This is a must for people returning to education. Beware the panic monster!


Some highlights of my time at Dublin City University

Next month I will move to London and therein end (or postpone) a relationship I’ve had with Dublin City University for the last 5 and a half years. Considering I also completed my undergraduate studies at DCU, I’ve now spent eight and a half years of my adult life at DCU, nine and a half if I include Erasmus.

What does that mean for me? Well, if truth be told I feel integrated into DCU life and that’s something that I will find hard to turn my back on. I was part of DCU, a university with big ambition and some very dynamic people. As well as doing meaningful work, I’ve made some good friends at DCU. Unlike corporate environments where at times, people can put on a professional front, in a University people can be, and are expected to be themselves. As I look ahead, I find it difficult to align myself with a single profession. In DCU I’ve been lucky to wear a lot of hats! I have managed over 150 funded projects with industry from SMEs through to multinational companies. I coordinated the online delivery of a Masters in Management (Social Enterprise). I’ve taught students from undergrad through to postgrad level and I’ve supported mature students returning to education after a long time. That might not sound like much but consider what we take for granted as everyday tools such as Moodle, webinar technology, Google Apps and online library databases, returning to education can be a huge challenge. This becomes an even bigger challenge when ones thinks of part time exec students who are used to being the boss in their organisation and now find themselves working on teams with their student colleagues.

Life before DCU
After a short but reasonably successful (in terms of promotions etc.) career in financial services, my girlfriend, now fiancé and I packed our bags in 2008 and set off on a yearlong round the world trip. I left a well-paid corporate banking position at Ulster Bank that I liked, a lot. I had been growing in confidence in my position and abilities and I had spent the previous year and a half making a huge effort to integrate myself into the organisation and get to know colleagues across lots of different departments. This is something that not everybody did. Banks, like civil service organisations can be, or at least were quite segmented organisations. Upon reflection, I realise that building these internal relationships has been one of my strengths as it has often allowed me to bypass bureaucracy and get things done more quickly than other colleagues. Anyway, I was in the career stream and had a manager who believed in my abilities and took every opportunity to highlight my achievements to senior management. In 2008 when I handed in my notice, Ireland was very much on the precipice of a new reality that we now simply call “the Recession”. Back then though, nobody wanted to talk about recession and instead used words like “soft landing” and in the banking world where I worked – “the credit crunch”. The day that I handed in my notice and told my boss that I was going to leave this great job to go backpacking, he told me that I had just been promoted but it hadn’t been made official yet. He asked me if I was sure about what I was doing. After all he said, the Ireland that I would return to in 12 months might look very different to the Ireland that we were in then. For years during the boom, young people had been leaving good jobs to go and hang out in Sydney for a year only to walk straight back into their old jobs when they returned. My boss and I knew that those days were over. Sure enough, when I arrived back in Ireland a year later I met that boss and another Director of the bank for lunch and they told me of the organisation wide recruitment freeze. In an odd twist, I learned of a colleague who had started at the same time as me was offered a redundancy and was going to stick the payment in his back pocket and …… go travelling for a year. Good for him I thought!

Returning to education
I wasn’t heartbroken though. As much as I had loved working in corporate banking, I never dreamt of working there as a child (who does?) and so I went back to education to do a Masters in eCommerce at Dublin City University. As depressing as those days were in 2009 from an economic point of view, I felt quite positive and looked forward to learning new things and creating new opportunities. The course was tough. There is something about Business School education that seems to demand so much from course participants. It’s not just about good time management. The workload was huge, partly due to a brand new 20 credit module which was being piloted that year and also the amount of team work involved. Once team work is introduced to the mix, you are no longer in control of your own schedule. When working on multiple teams on multiple projects, it can be incredibly difficult to coordinate times to meet and work together. Sounds like no big deal? Throw personal commitments such as relationships and working to pay the bills into the mix. Personal relationships are most certainly challenged! I experienced that but I have seen it time and time again since I have worked in DCU. But that’s for another post. Still, one of the great things about completing the programme that year more so than any other year of that programme before then or since is that there was a diverse range of people participating. I was not the only one returning to education and trying to define a new path for myself! There was a good balance of genders and the age range went from 22 – 50.

University life or back to corporate?
At the end of the year, the Course Chair who I had gotten to know asked me if I would like to come and work with him as his Research Assistant. The job would not be well paid but I would have opportunities to work on some very interesting projects and with some interesting clients, continue learning, work with smart people and do some travelling. At the very same time, my old boss from Ulster Bank got in touch to let me know that a position comparable to the one that I had left two years previously had become available and would I like to return. That was a tough decision to call. The Ulster Bank position was far more lucrative and offered a clearly defined career path. DCU on the other hand wasn’t well paid and had no clear career path. It did however offer me the chance to continue learning and work in education. It was a tough decision to call. At the time there was a lot of negative press about the banks. This certainly had an effect on me. I recall meeting up with a former colleague to ask their advice on what I should do and I remember they implored me NOT to come back. The bad press, the pressure to manage toxic relationships and loan facilities of clients who were no longer able to meet their commitments and new regulatory requirements meant that the working atmosphere in the bank wasn’t what I had remembered. In the end I made a decision based on values. I valued learning and further, I realised that there are few careers more satisfying and valuable than education. I wanted to create value by supporting SMEs and teaching. I found it difficult to see value in calling in bad debts. And so in the spirit of Robert Frosts “The Road Not Taken”, I chose the less trodden and less clearly defined path of DCU.

So what’s the goal of this meandering post? Well, for anyone that takes the time to read it, I just wanted to rationalise why, in 2010 I made the career choice to work in DCU rather than in banking. Also, I’ve already highlighted some of the types of work that I did while in DCU but I would also like to record some highlights of my time at DCU in terms of fun and interesting experiences. This is as much for my own benefit as anyone reading! For potential employers, hopefully this post will convince you that I haven’t spent the last four and a half years sitting in an office reading books!

  • 2010 Attended World Expo in Shanghai, China
  • 2010 Returned to Shanghai to deliver a series of Social Media Marketing Bootcamps at Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade
  • 2011 Attended the BETT Show, the world’s leading technology in education trade show
  • 2011 Research trip to the United States. Drove from Boston to New York and then New York to San Francisco. Flew from San Francisco to LA. Along the way we visited:
    • University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
    • Centre for Talented Youth, John Hopkins University, Baltimore
    • Velocidi, New York
    • Enterprise Ireland, New York
    • Slingshot SEO, Indianapolis, Indiana
    • University of Illinois, Chicago
    • PayPal, Omaha, Nebraska
    • Intellectual Ventures, MountainView, California
    • Klout, San Francisco
    • ClickStream Technologies, San Francisco
    • Happeo, San Francisco
    • School of Business and Management, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California
  • 2011 Coordinated and led a research trip to Bangalore India for Masters Students. The trip included visiting companies such as:
    • Accenture
    • PerceptKnorigin
    • Microsoft Research Labs
    • Professional Access
    • Project Management Group
    • Attended a 2 day Search Engine Marketing conference
    • Ninestars
    • Google Labs
    • IBM Innovation Centre
    • We also attended a two day Search Engine Marketing Summit where we got to learn about the state of search marketing in India.
  • 2011: Coordinated and led a research trip to Shanghai and Beijing, China for Masters Students. Some highlights included:
    • Visiting the Irish community in Shanghai
    • Visiting Tourism Ireland to learn about how they are packaging Irelands value proposition as a leisure destination for Chinese travellers
    • Visiting Ireland House to learn about the local activities of Enterprise Ireland and the IDA
    • Meeting the Head of Marketing (an Irish lady) at PepsiCo for the APAC region and learning about marketing in a very different cultural environment than what we are used to in Ireland
    • Walking the Great Wall of China
    • Visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing
  • 2012: Attended the Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 2012: Delivered a two day Digital Marketing Bootcamp for UK Business School Deans at Cass Business School, City University London
  • 2012: Coordinated and launched an online Masters in Business Management (Innovation in Social Enterprise) to be delivered to social entrepreneurs in Ireland and Wales
  • 2013: Delivered a 2 day digital marketing bootcamp to social entrepreneurs at University of Bangor, Wales
  • 2013: Tokyo Japan. Business meetings and delivered a social media workshop to business students at Musashino University.
  • 2014: Coordinated Irish researchers to go to Japan in a drive to increase collaboration with Japanese companies, research institutions and universities. The four-day visit, organised by ISCA Japan (Science Foundation Ireland’s new Ireland-Japan science collaboration programme), in close cooperation with IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the Embassy of Ireland in Japan focused on information and communications technology research with a particular emphasis on big data analytics and cloud computing. The visit commenced on September 30th and included meetings with leading Japanese and multinational corporations, research institutions and universities to present Irish ICT research and identify opportunities for collaboration. It culminated in a one-day conference on Friday, October 3rd at the Delegation of the European Union in Japan, entitled “EU-Japan R&D Cooperation, Horizon 2020 and the Irish ICT Research Opportunity.” With over 100 attendees, the conference was addressed by representatives of the European Union, the Japanese and Irish Governments, Fujitsu Laboratories, and the Japanese National Institute of Information and Communication Technology.
  • 2015: Coordinated and led a research trip to Bangalore India for Digital Marketing Masters students. We stayed in the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. As well as attending a number of sessions for educating expats on doing business in India, the trip included visiting companies such as IBM Innovation Centre, Edelman India and IPG Media Brands India. We also built in a number of cultural visits including a visit to Mysore, one of South India’s most famous tourist destinations ,known for its magnificent monuments and buildings including its World Heritage listed palace.
  • On top of all of this, I have organised a number of conferences covering topics such as Social Media, Start Ups, Mobile Technology and Cloud Computing.

I could write blog posts about each of these highlights. Perhaps I will reflect on that another day. In the meantime, I look forward to the challenge ahead in London with mixed emotions

Great video: Dr. Randy Pausch, the Last Lecture, Achieving your Childhood Dreams

I’ve watched this video before and can highly recommend the book, but if you have time over the next few days, this video is incredibly moving and inspirational. There is a lot of wisdom here, particularly at this time of the year as we reflect on how are life is proceeding and make plans and resolutions for the New Year ahead. Happy New Year 🙂


Video about 21st Century Education: A Vision of Students Today

This is a short video from Michael Wesch summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime.
Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

Tim Minchin shares his tips on life……

Shameless plug #2: Invitation to the National Conference for Cloud Computing and Commerce (NC4)

The Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce (IC4), DCU Business School and Techspectations with support from Microsoft Ireland and HP are holding our Third National Conference on Cloud Computing and Commerce on 15 April. It will be free and held in DCU Business School and the Mahony Hall in the Helix. The current programme is available at http://www.nc4.ie/ and comprises over 20 speakers from industry and academia including speakers from Gartner, Oracle, Microsoft, Dell, Amazon Web Services, HP, Enterprise Ireland and many more.

This year we are delighted to feature US author, Alistair Croll, who will be delivering a 3-hour workshop on Lean Analytics in the morning session, which should be of interest to all growing businesses and startups, cloud or otherwise. We expect significant demand for the limited places available for this workshop so please register for it as soon as possible.

We will also be running 1-to-1 cloud clinics throughout the day for attendees to meet with cloud specialists and get advice about using the cloud for their businesses.

The programme currently is as follows:

0900 – 09300900 – 0930: Registration

0930 – 1300: Session 1 (Third Floor, DCU Business School)

  • High Performance and the Cloud Workshop (UCC, NTNU, Amazon Web Services, West University of Timisoara, Dell)
  • Lean Analytics Workshop (Alistair Croll)

1300 – 1400: Lunch and Networking

1400 – 1530: Session 2 (Third Floor, DCU Business School)

  • Trust and the Cloud (BH Consulting, Anaeko, Espion)
  • DDM Alliance: Marketing the Cloud
  • Vendor Workshop: Oracle

1600 – 1800: Plenary (Mahony Hall, The Helix)

  • Sean Baker (Chairperson, IC4 & Entrepreneur)
  • Paolo Malinverno (Research Vice President, Gartner)
  • Davin Cody (Converged Infrastructure Specialist, HP)
  • Alistair Croll (Author and Entrepreneur)

Additional speakers will be added over the coming days.

The Business School believes there is a lot of value in students being exposed to industry as early as possible. As such, this event will feature a Poster Presentation of Mobile Apps designed and deployed by first year students participating in the Digital Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise (DICE) module.

Spaces for Sessions 1 and 2 are limited and we recommend that people register early. At the same time, please do not take a space you do not intend to use. We will confirm registration for these sessions with 3 working days of registration, if not before.

If this is of interest, you are welcome to register via http://www.nc4.ie

Shameless plug: Data Driven Marketing Roadshow, Thursday 27th March, the Helix, 0900 – 1745

DCU MarketingLab where I work is hosting a Roadshow on behalf of the Data Driven Marketing Alliance. This will take place in the Helix in DCU on 27th March.

In data-driven marketing, an innovative, forward-thinking spirit is crucial to leverage big data, social media, web and mobile experiences. The DDM Alliance wants to stimulate this innovative, forward-thinking necessity by providing marketing professionals, agencies and marketing technology providers platforms to gather, interact and form partnerships locally and throughout European marketing communities.

This full-day event is all about what you can do to embrace data-driven marketing and keep in control of today’s complex digital marketing environment. The program is built around a number of fundamental catalysts (born in the US) that accelerate the rapid development of data-driven marketing.

More than 15 business experts from the US and Europe provide you with insights how technology has dramatically changed the way people communicate, do business and generally lead their lives. It’s increasingly online, and it’s increasingly mobile. In turn, those technologies have created tons of data-driven marketing opportunities.

Big data, the explosion of channels, the advent of social media and customers’ changing habits and expectations provide all kinds of opportunities. At the core, data-driven marketing centers on one thing only: propelling value by engaging customers effectively.

If you are interested in this, you can reserve a place here. Use the promotional code Techspectations to get free entry.

Back to education? Here are some tips to help you thrive – part 2

  • If you have a question in class (about the content of the class), ask the question in class. Do not wait until after class as perhaps other students may benefit from the answer.
  • Between classes, if there is something you are unsure of, complete the following checklist before emailing your lecturer. Consider that it’s not a good use of a lecturers time to have to respond to questions that have already been addressed in class.
    1. Check Moodle.
    2. Check the slides / notes.
    3. Check with your peers.
    4. If you have completed points one to three, ask the question via your LMS forum. Again, other students may benefit from the lecturers response.
    5. Finally, at University, a lot of modules contain a significant amount of independent learning. It is not just the responsibility of your lecturer to deliver new knowledge to you. It is up to the student to complete readings between classes and where applicable, complete independent research so you can construct your own new knowledge. For example, while getting ready for a class today, a student asked me what a Meme is. I could have answered this but I was busy helping a guest speaker set up for his presentation and I had an announcement to make to the class. I told the student that we were actually going to spend a whole class talking about Memes another day. I also asked the student if they had tried looking this up for themselves. Apparently she did but couldn’t find the answer. I felt bad about this afterwards but decided to double check this. So, I searched Google for “what is a meme?” and this is what I found:
      What is a meme Of course I should point out that while students are expected to complete independent readings etc. it is still up to the lecturer to provide guidance and leadership. I just wanted to illustrate that in this case, the answer was in the first position on Google and so perhaps demonstrates how important it is for students to take some responsibility over their own learning, or at least try and find out the answer themselves before approaching their lecturer. After all, knowledge is not simply absorbed from a lecturer, but is something that a learner creates for themselves.

      If you are interested in Memes and want to get examples of modern memes, check out this page. As an aside, I notice lately that I keep seeing Memes with this guy on Facebook:

Meme. The most interesting man in the worldApparently he was in an advertisement back in 2006 for Dos Equis Beer. His catchphrase was “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis,”, and “Stay thirsty, my friends”. This seems to have taken on a life of its own with people creating all sorts of memes starting with “I don’t always……..”. If you’d like to create your own meme featuring the most interesting man in the world visit Meme Generator.

  • While it may feel like you have a lot of content to get through, it is important to take breaks and stimulate other parts of your brain in as many other ways as possible.
  • “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think”. – Albert Einstein.
    Remember, course work and assignments are meant to stimulate and excite, not stress. I know it’s easier said than done but it is important to avoid the stress trap. This gets in the way of real thinking and learning which in turn will have an impact on course work and assignments. It is indeed a vicious cycle and admittedly one I have fallen into myself in the past. Hindsight is a great thing! Remember, positive emotions greatly impact on our ability to learn.
  • Learn how to learn. There are lots of books and ongoing research into this area so I certainly can’t do this justice on my little blog. I can recommend a very useful book though called Accelerated Learning Techniques by Colin Rose. 
    This may be particularly useful if you are returning to education after being away from it for a long time. It’s a very interesting read and can be left on your desk for dipping into as you progress through your studies.

Back to education? Here are some small tips to help you thrive – part 1 – know your tools

While I am not always directly involved in teaching, I do interact with students a lot. This interaction comes in the form of emails,  discussion forums, telephone calls and meetings. At times my colleagues may also ask me for a second opinion on an assignment that they have graded etc. Over time I have noticed some small but common issues that pop up again and again. This post aims to identify those issues. Even though some of them are trivial, I’d like to provide some guidance to overcome these and also assist (albeit in a very minor way) students to thrive at University.
1. Know how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

This might seem obvious but I am amazed when I see that some people don’t know how to use these tools. Unfortunately, to be literate these days doesn’t just mean knowing how to read and write. I think it involves being digitally literate and that means knowing how to make use of these tools which, after all, can make your life so much easier. So, how do I know that many people can’t use these tools properly? It’s pretty easy to tell when I see the following:

  • No table of contents
  • Headings that are just bolded as opposed to actual headings
  • Images and tables with no labels or captions
  • No page numbers
  • Poorly formatted images
  • Inconsistent use of fonts

Is this a big deal? I think it is. I’m not sure if that means the responsibility for teaching these skills belongs to the University or not but certainly I think employers can reasonably expect graduates to be well able to use these tools proficiently.

One thing that always bothers me is seeing reports where it is obvious that the student has spent a considerable amount of time manually creating a table of contents. This is a waste of time. All you need to do is use the correct text formatting in your document and then you just need to click a button, and Word will create the table of contents for you. Knowing simple things like this will allow you to go to bed earlier when you’re working on those late night assignments! Similarly for tables and graphs, just write click and insert caption. Again, with a couple of clicks Word will create a list of graphs for you. Again, this will make it much easier for the reader of the assignment to navigate their way around and will allow you to reference different sections.

Word Headings

2. Beware when using PowerPoint

I can actually break this one down into a number of sub points.

  • Don’t use PowerPoint templates. Why? Well, most of them look terrible and sometimes students spend so much time trying to make their slides look great, they forget about the important stuff – the content!
  • Text colours:
    • Don’t use red text
    • Avoid loud colours that aren’t pleasing to the eye. That means no slides that are almost all red or luminous green!
      Do use dark text on bright colored backgrounds
    • Avoid colour blind combinations like red & green, and blue and yellow.
    • Be careful using clipart text!
      PowerPoint Clip Art
  • Don’t add too much text with a small font. Remember, slides are to support your presentation. You can’t expect your audience to read detailed slides and listen to you at the same time. So the recommendation here is simply to use slides to emphasize your point. This may be as simple as just using an image and not using text at all.
  • Preparing slides with slide animation can be a real time vampire and isn’t necessarily going to impress your audience. Remember the KISS principle – Keep it simple stupid!
  • Always have a back up of your presentation and make sure you bring a printed version for your audience.
  • Be prepared to do the presentation without PowerPoint. On the day your laptop might not work, your USB might not work, the projector in the room might not be working. There are too many variables to rely upon.
  • Speak to your audience, not the slides. That means looking at your audience and not looking at the screen. And also, don’t just read what’s on the slide. If you are nervous the only way of getting over this is to practice, practice, practice. I remember my first presentation when I did my Masters. I must have delivered the presentation aloud about 6 or 7 times before I did it in class. By the time I did it, I knew the content so well I knew what was coming up on each slide and was able to keep the transition between slides and the points I was making fairly seamless.
  • Know your time and avoid slide rush! If you have a 10 minute presentation you can present 10 slides. I can’t emphasize this enough.  I’ve seen so many students let themselves down by coming into a 10 minute presentation with 60 slides and not give themselves the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and get their points across.
  • If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about, check out these PowerPoint train wrecks. Don’t make the same mistakes.

3. Don’t bother with Prezi – honestly!

Yes it looks great but you know what? It takes ages to prepare your slides and secondly, they are a pain to print. I’ve seen so many students waste hours and hours preparing their slides in Prezi when they could have been practicing their presentation or doing something more fun like spending time with their family – seriously, at Masters level it’s important to focus on these little things! Also, I can tell you from experience, a lecturer isn’t going to give you a better mark just because you have some sexy slides!


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