Dreaming Big over BBQ

‘Tis the season for summer cook outs and barbeques all across the Western hemisphere.  Yesterday, I went to two.  One at Drs. Pam Eddy and Dave Pape’s house in Williamsburg, and another at the home of John and Tammy Lifsey in Portsmouth.

The main difference in these events is what we call them:  John and Tammy had a “porch party” while Pam and Dave had a “Higher Ed picnic”.  These reminded me of the “BBQ” I recently enjoyed in Dublin that was hosted by Mike and Mai Murphy (I’ve posted photos of the event).  My sister, Heather, came along with me.

On this particular night we were discussing our dreams of setting up a new research center.  I’ll keep you posted on the progress we make with that.

Whatever the name and wherever the place, it’s nice to have friends to visit and to share ideas with!

Group-Based Learning in Action

I’m becoming a bigger and bigger believer in collaborative learning!  Last semester I did lot of research about how engineering professors (i.e., lecturers) here at Dublin Institute of Technology worked together to develop new ways of teaching electrical engineers.  I was amazed to discover how incredibly much they learned by working together.

Such impressive knowledge gain is the premise behind Project-Based Learning and other group-based learning formats.

Orla and Shannon in the throws of course planning.

Orla and Shannon in the throws of course planning.

My day today was filled with meetings about collaborative research and teaching projects.

With the help of five different tech guys, I got SPSS up and running so that I will be able to help analyze data on that Mike Murphy and I collected from engineering and engineering technology students. We asked them what they saw themselves doing in the future, how well prepared they feel to start work, and what kinds of things they’ve focused their efforts on over the past few years.

After lunch I met with Orla Hanratty of DIT’s Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre (LTTC) and introduced her to Brian Bowe. She’ll be co-teaching a course (i.e., module) with us in May.  We aim to increase the usage and visibility of Problem-Based Learning at DIT by teaching more teachers to use Problem-Based Learning in their own classrooms.

And now, tonight, I’ve been working on a proposal for funding with Ted Burke and Damon Berry.  It’s an opportunity that the college’s head of research, Marek Rebow, told me about yesterday and it has to be completed immediately.

I rallied the troops. Ted drafted some text. Then Damon and I were adding our own contributions to it using Google Docs.  It was so strange… Damon and me editing the same document at the same time.  It turned into a bit of an academic chat session.  We tossed ideas back and forth, discussing budget, objectives, and ways to improve what we’ve already got in place.

We’ll do more of that tomorrow, when the three of us meet to hash this out… and have some fun learning in the process.

Around the Dinner Table

We had a ball with my work colleagues Friday night; it is a real treat to be welcomed into someone’s home here and to meet the family!  Pam Eddy and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with Mike and Mai Murphy, their boys Sean and Patrick, and the soon-to-wed Brian and Theresa (Hedderman???? or perhaps Bowe????  Only time and a golf tournament will tell for certain).  Regardless of uncertainty on the name front, the meal and the conversation were outstanding!  I so enjoy spending time with the folks at this table.

By the way, Mike and Brian are my Fulbright hosts. Pam and I are Fulbright scholars; she worked as a Fulbright at DIT in 2009 and I have been since August 2012. Lots of brilliant people around the table below… my colleagues’ families are amazingly skilled, talented, and educated, and they are loads of fun to boot.

Dinner at the Murphy home.

Dinner at the Murphy home.

Graduating with the Saints at DIT (and Getting Fergus’ Take on it All)

DIT President Brian Norton with Shannon Chance.

DIT President Brian Norton with Fulbright Scholar Shannon Chance.

DIT’s graduation ceremony is an event to behold!

Today’s occurred at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (which is the largest church building in Ireland).  You may recall that Kitty Lee, Patty, and I visited it last week.

At DIT exams for the fall semester occur in January, and winter graduation falls shortly after.

During the ceremony, each graduate’s name, degree title, and thesis topic is announced. Today’s list of topics highlighted valuable contributions DIT is making to society in areas such as physics, health and nutrition, energy, and computing.

For me, a true highlight of the ceremony was a performance by two students: a signer and a harpist.  The talented duo really brought this grand space to life.  (Kitty, Patty, and I missed Evensong in this church last night — by just a few sad minutes — and so I tried to live today’s event vicariously on their behalf while they soared above the Atlantic on their journey home.)

Today also presented my first opportunity to meet DIT’s president, Prof. Brian Norton in person.  When the opportunity appeared, I stepped forward without hesitation, extended my hand, and introduced myself.  I was truly dumbfounded when Dr. Norton said he knew who I was and that he had read my blog.  Wow!  I look forward to meeting him again soon.

Fergus Wheelan's insightful book on Irish/Dublin history of the 1600 and 1700s.

Fergus Wheelan’s insightful book on Irish/Dublin history of the 1600 and 1700s.

At the reception, I also met a few members the electrical engineering faculty I haven’t yet gotten to know.  I hope to have more to tell about their work soon.

I’ve included some photos of the day, including a snapshot of the English and Protestant flags hanging in St. Patrick’s (Protestant) Cathedral.

Upon returning to my apartment, I curled up with Fergus Whelan‘s book Dissent into Treason. In the first chapter, Fergus does a remarkable job of explaining the formative roots of various Western denominations. I’ve learned so much in just 20 pages… including distinctions between Unitarians, Presbyterians and Congregationalists, Quakers, Levelers, Catholics, and the like. I believe Dissenters were people whose supported the creation the Irish nation despite pressure from their larger brethren and/or religious underpinnings to support the English crown.  I’ll gain clarity on that soon, I’m sure.

Have you ver wondered why more Protestants read the Bible today than Catholics (in the US at least)?  I certainly have.

Fergus’ book explains that in Ireland in the 1600s, Catholics were only permitted to read scriptures in Latin or Greek.  Protestants were given freedom to read in English. Hummmm.

In Ireland there’s so very much to discover.  I’m trying to make the most of every moment, but there’s not nearly enough of time to do, see, and learn all I’d like….

RoboSumo at DIT

RoboSumo video is available to view at by clicking here.

A video of a past RoboSumo competition is available to view at by clicking here. The competition is just getting underway now for this year… in fact, there’s still time to register for the DIT class!

One of the things I have been studying here in Dublin is the use of hands-on projects to teach engineering. One example is a very popular electrical engineering course at DIT called RoboSumo.

People who teach this course include Ted Burke, David Dorran, and Damon Berry. Richard Hayes tends to show up at RoboSumo events, too, as do many of the other lecturers. (Ted’s probably going to read this and he’ll likely send me and update of who’s teaching “on the module” this semester so I can tweak my list — I know mine isn’t complete. By the way, I appreciate having you in my audience, Ted!)

Suffice it to say, the whole program gets jazzed up about RoboSumo events. Even the Dean (Dr. Mike Murphy) can be seen in the video of the final competition.

There’s a bit of information about the class on line. The General Rules page explains:

Two robots compete in each bout, each trying to stay in the arena longer than the other robot. Robots are encouraged but not obliged to actively push their opponent out of the arena. … The bout ends either when a robot leaves the arena or once 1 minute has elapsed, whichever occurs first. If only one robot remains in the arena at the end of the bout, that robot is the winner.

Wrapping up the College Year

gathered together to hear the College Dean/Director, Dr. Mike Murphy.

gathered together to hear the College Dean/Director, Dr. Mike Murphy.

Last week was a swirl of activity, with DIT’s College of Engineering and the Built Environment wrapping up fall classes and me getting ready to spend five weeks back home.

At an end-of-year College Forum, the college’s Dean recapped recent successes and helped crystallize a shared vision for the future of the College.

At the event, I caught up with a few friends (including my planner friend, Ela). And I made a few new acquaintances as well.

Than, I rushed out to do some last minute Christmas shopping. After succeeding in that endeavor, I was headed home laden with bags.

But I bumped into prof. Jim Roche on the sidewalk in front of the Black Sheep Inn.  I accepted his invitation to hang out for a while with the students from his studio who were assembled there. I particularly enjoyed talking with Robert Burns, because he has a clear passion for photography and was excited to learn about the studio we’d just purchased for Dave.

I also got the chat with the Dean, who had passed us on the street and who we’d managed to rope into the Inn.

Shortly later I headed down the street a just few blocks, to Jack Nealons pub, where Ela was assembled with friends who I wanted to meet.

Low and behold, my friend Joan Cahalin was there. She’s been planning to go looking for me at the Cobblestone, but fate must have know to send her here instead!

Engineering with the Greeks (and Irish, and Finns)

The Prezi presentation I delivered at SEFI.

SEFI attendees 2012 — I’m at the lower left.

The SEFI conference was one of the most fun conferences I’ve ever attended.  They claim to be a family and it certainly felt that way.  This was my first conference with engineers.  I suspect this special feeling of belonging may be specific to the European Society of Engineering Educators (SEFI).  It also helped in making me feel welcome that the whole Irish delegation claimed me as their own!

The Irish group included the Dean of our college at the DIT (Mike Murphy), a recent PhD who teaches at the institute of technology at Tallah (Eileen Goold), a lecturer from Trinity College (Kevin Kelley), and a scholar (Bill Williams) who has been working in Portugal for 18 years but hails from Cork (in Southern Ireland, near where my great grandmother set sail for Ellis Island). Also at the conference were Gavin Duffy and myself.

SEFI 2012 banquet — the Irish table, with friends from Spain.

Part of the reason I had so much fun at SEFI was that I knew a lot of people — or got to know them quickly. That’s because the Irish friendliness is contagious.  I couldn’t be the wall-flower I am at most conferences. Moreover, our Dean is really a great leader.  He knows everyone and he also know show to make people feel welcome.  The last night, after the conference dinner at the Hyatt, we all went for a beer in a quaint part of town.  A contingent of Finnish students came along with us.We sat outside in a gorgeous little plaza. When I say that Mike is a great leader, this evening provides an illustration.  Mike wanted to sing Irish pub songs and he managed to convince us all to sing despite our initial reluctance.

The Finns shared their songs and we found a few tunes everyone knew (What Can You Do With a Drunken Sailor and the ever-popular Bring Me Home Country Roadwhich is of course, about West Virginia, the state one half hour’s drive from my hometown).

Drs. Eileen Goold and Mike Murphy

We sang until the pub closed at 2 PM.  I’m quite sure the neighboring residents were glad to hear The singing stop.  On this particular evening, few of us could carry a tune. This level of zest is something I would never have endorsed in an American group… but when with the Irish, do as the Irish do!

During the conference, Gavin and I both made successful presentations.  I was the sixth presenter in my set, so I had to super-charge my presentation.  The audience was visibly drowsy when I stood up to present so I worked to energize the room. And I achieved a high level of engagement from most everyone.

At SEFI, I met a load (as the Irish would say) of interesting folks.  I even spent an entire lunch hour talking one-on-one with the current president of SEFI, Prof. Dr. Wim Van Petegem.  What an honor!

Perhaps I’ll be able to coordinate visits to universities in Belgium, Portugal, and Spain where I’ve made new connections.  All of them have Fulbright offices that may be able to help.

The plaza with our favorite watering hole… in the short brick building to the right. Much quieter the morning after our raucousness!