Welcome to the National Forum ezine where we present voices, experiences and stories from across the higher education sector. We have included a range of formats, mostly informal, which we hope you will find professional, engaging and authentic.
Many thanks to those colleagues who have contributed to this work. If you read just one of their super articles we believe that you’ll be tempted to read another, and another, and …
We’d really like to hear what you think about this edition. And we’d love if you’d consider writing for the next one. Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Forum Team
Stop, Start, Continue // Paul Lynch
Paul Lynch provides the student voice in this piece inspired by the popular feedback tool. Paul tells us what he would like to see stop, start and continue with respect to his higher education learning.
Paul Lynch is Student Union President in Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT).
I would like to stop every member of staff who teaches for a moment and ask them to consider incorporating an innovative teaching technique into their classes, no matter how big or small, and to then share their experiences within their own department, school, institution and with other institutions so that others who teach can learn and develop.
I want to stop getting distracted so easily when I study; I want to stop studying in environments where I feel uncomfortable and restless.
I want to stop before I study in order to come prepared, with a work plan and achievable goals to help keep me stay motivated.
I wish competitiveness would stop within the classroom. If comparing results with other classmates would stop we could all be working in a more supportive and collaborative environment.
I would be delighted to start learning about other teaching practices and to start to have more of a say in the way my modules will be taught to me. I’d like to know the different methods of teaching that exist and to see if they can be incorporated or adapted to improve my learning experience.
I plan to start evaluating the effectiveness of my study.
I am going to start considering what supports I can use to help me reach my learning goals, whether it is looking for assistance or support from my lecturer or organising study sessions with my classmates.
I want to start working more with my classmates – whether it is joint assignments or study sessions.
From the start, when working with my classmates, I want to ensure everyone gets equal treatment and opportunities for input.
I hope to continue to be taught in effective ways.
I hope to continue to have the opportunity to evaluate and provide feedback on my learning.
I want to continue to learn with my classmates to the best of our abilities, in a variety of ways, to practice and improve our skills and to become more aware of our personal strengths and weaknesses.
I want to continue to strive to do the best that I possibly can and to support any of my classmates along the way.
I hope we will continue to participate and share any information or methods of study we find beneficial so that everyone in our class can perform as best they can. Where this is happening, I hope that staff who teach continue to support and reward this behaviour to ensure a culture of collaboration is maintained in the classroom.
PD Prompts // Kathleen Horgan
Teaching for me is like …
pearl diving – free diving into the experiential sea to seek and harvest pearls of insight (my students’, my own and those of the academy) that help us, collectively, to go deeper.
One of the things I most enjoy about teaching is …
that moment when I feel I have challenged my students only to find that, through their responses, I am the one who has been challenged.
I know a class has gone well when …
I am left pondering …
If I could research one area of my students’ learning, it would be …
what are the triggers that urge them to keep searching for that elusive pearl?
Writing connects with teaching best when …
it is an articulation of a teacher’s experience, promoting reflection on different aspects of that experience using multiple lenses.
The social nature of teaching and learning means …
it is full of surprises! There are endless possibilities based on our infinite potential as humans and, when we share a common cause in the learning endeavour, the interaction can take us anywhere.
I prefer my learning environment to be …
enabling, open, unpredictable: enabling of one and all in the learning community; open to all approaches; unpredictable because this adventure can take many unexpected turns as we dive together in search of treasure!
should prioritise the celebration of achievement as much as identifying where there is scope for further progress.
When I use technology, I feel …
amazed by its power to support learning and stimulate interest; appreciative of the opportunity it offers for real-time feedback from my students; mindful that the human dimension of the educational experience cannot be substituted or lost.
Technology for students is …
to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, both the medium and the message. As a medium, technology allows personal contact with more information than people have ever have been able to access in the past. The message highlights their ability to self-determine and have agency as learners.
Teaching matters to me because …
the alchemy of the teacher-student partnership is unique and remarkably potent.
If I could change one thing in Irish HE, I would …
intensify the focus on the genius of our students and the cherishing of their life-enhancing contribution to their own education.
Higher education is about…
developing the openness, capacity and courage to dive for pearls wherever they may lie.
My Teaching & Learning Space // Peter Weadack
I teach applied Accounting through the wonderful medium of Excel to Arts Management degree students in C016, a ground floor computer lab with 42 PCs for about 32 students. It’s where I spend about 80% of my teaching time and I share it with two other accounting lecturers, a maths lecturer and a digital marketing lecturer. The lab is about the size of a tennis court. The “corn” rows of PCs are perpendicular to the instructor desk – students face each other or the wall – and I face their left or their right ears.
Behind me is a big screen and beside that a glossy white board. Over about the third student in front of me is the projector hanging from the ceiling and aimed mostly at the screen. Students enter the room from beside the white board, making it impossible to skulk in late to class without being noticed (this applies to the lecturer too). At the opposite end of the room is a wall of glazing looking out onto a lovely green lawn and the occasional stray dog. If all the lights are on it’s hard to see the screen, and if all the lights are off it’s hard to see the room. The aircon frequently shudders, which amuses or scares students in equal measure. My first ritual when entering class is to turn on/off lights, open/close windows, open/close radiator valves, then log on and “good morning/good afternoon”.
Teaching accounting to non-accounting students feels like it has to be animated and fast-moving to keep the interest. As it happens, the room layout lends itself to this approach; I work the aisles, roving up and down, shouting my wares, taking a hundred mental screen grabs of the students’ screens to check if they match mine. Then I return to base and announce that I’m about to demonstrate something in 20 seconds, in 10 seconds: “turn around, eyes on the big screen please”. This dynamic of demonstrating and then checking students’ follow-on attempts feels very much like vocational teaching which is exactly where I want it to be – and sometimes it feels like a cookery show. It is, “Learn by doing, fail fast and figure out where and why you went wrong”. As I remind students if it balances on the first attempt it’s probably not right!
I’m interested in what the students think about their learning environment and I have in the past surveyed them on the layout and dynamic of this space, not least because I would like it changed so students face me. I think eye contact is important pedagogically and socially and I admit to liking some “sage on the stage” affordance. Feedback from mature students is that they tend to find the current situation frustrating and distracting, however traditional students seem to like it as they say it allows them to interact with each other. So we appear to have some room to improve … back to the drawing board!
Technology Tenses // Sharon Flynn
Sharon Flynn writes about Technology Enhanced Learning – how it was in the past, how she sees it in the present, and her vision for the future.
Sharon Flynn is Project Manager for Enhancing Digital Capacity in Irish Universities with the Irish Universities Association (IUA).
Image: “Donald Knuth presenting talk ‘The Joy of Technical Illustration’“, by Paul Sladen, is licensed under CC BY 4.0
As a PhD student in the early 90s in the Department of Computing Science at Glasgow University, I learned how to give a good presentation from Simon Peyton Jones’ paper on How to give a good research talk. He advised to use an overhead projector, and write your overhead slides by hand (unless your handwriting was utterly abysmal). This made it easier to use colour, draw diagrams, and avoid the temptation to include too much information. He also advised writing your slides “sideways” (landscape), allowing you to write larger. For the first few years that I was lecturing, I continued to prepare my slides by hand.
In today’s classroom, physical or virtual, we have so many possibilities with technology to enhance the learning experience for students. I still like to teach in a face-to-face environment, but often using a flipped approach, with plenty of activity in the classroom. I use technology, especially social media, to support learning communities. But sometimes there’s nothing like using flipcharts, post-its and coloured pens for collaborative work.
And yet, even with all these possibilities, the development of digital champions and the innovative teaching that is happening, technology use has not been mainstreamed in higher education teaching and learning.
As project manager for the IUA project Enhancing Digital Capacity in Teaching and Learning in Irish Universities, my vision is that the integrated use of appropriate digital technologies will become the norm in higher education in Ireland. All those who support teaching and learning will develop their digital competencies to be comfortable and confident to select, use and evaluate the effectiveness of technologies within and outside the classroom, enhancing the educational experience of all third level students in Ireland.
A Typical Teaching & Learning Day // Gina Noonan
‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ (George Orwell, 1984)
I started working in teaching and learning on a bright day one April and, since then, no working hour or day has been the same; they couldn’t be nor should they be. They are as different and unique as each of our learners.
So what does a typical day, or indeed an atypical day, look like…?
My day usually starts with an overflowing Inbox, accompanied by an equally overflowing coffee. As I glance down through the list, the all-too-familiar blue sidebar flags the sense of newness – new day, new tasks. I quickly try to conduct a mental triage of which messages are ‘important’ and which ones are ‘nice to know’. Almost all of the emails revolve around a question – someone’s quest for answers on their own journey of learning. The emails range from queries about referencing to project funding, from professional development opportunities to assessment strategies. As my work involves supporting staff and students, I have to be ready for any question. There are the ones that are straightforward to answer…
‘Are there still spaces on that VLE workshop?’…‘Do you have a booklet on writing learning outcomes?’…‘What’s the policy on plagiarism again?’…‘My lecturer said I need help with referencing…when is the Writing Centre open this week?’
…and the ones that cause you to puzzle and reflect…
‘How do I get students to engage?’…‘What is a reasonable percentage match on Turnitin?’…‘What kind of feedback should I be giving?’…‘What does student-centred really mean?’
These emails get re-designated as ‘unread’, this time the blue bar being a temporary reminder that they need a more considered response. When you work in teaching and learning, everything can fall under your remit, and it usually does.
And just as I think I am getting to the crest of my tide of emails, a meeting reminder pops up…I have to be somewhere else…urgently! Meetings form the spine of most of my days -meetings about reviews (programmatic, faculty, institutional – take your pick), others about new collaborations and programmes, and ones about induction (and it’s only April). Review meetings seem to come around faster than you can say ‘Did we not do that last year?’. We are constantly reviewing and previewing. Then there are committee meetings, sub-committees, working groups, and joint working groups – there is always a project on the go and always a deadline (usually yesterday) to be met. Policies are drafted and re-drafted, open days and evenings planned, validation panels scheduled, and innovative initiatives explored, discarded or implemented. One thing remains the same, however, everything involves teaching and learning.
Back in the office, the tide of work never ebbs away, the to-do list never retreats…
There are workshops, seminars and courses to be organised, guest lecturers to be invited, learning spaces to be designed (and redesigned), budgets to balance, resources to be created and curated and reports to be drafted. There are emails to staff highlighting upcoming events, gently pushing for publications and encouraging funding applications (‘oh no, when is the deadline for the National Forum call again?!’). And all of these are accompanied by the standard ‘…if you would like support with anything, please contact the Teaching and Learning Centre’. This is my job, after all. Though every day and hour may throw up something different, my overall job is to support; to try to ensure that every learner has the best learning experience possible.
And that support only ceases when the clock strikes thirteen…
HEIku // Larry Mc Nutt
So what do you see?
Just fifty four wooden blocks
Or learning and glee
NF News // National Forum Team
National Forum Strategy 2019-2021
The 2019-21 National Forum Strategy was recently launched by Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. It provides an overview of key long-term developments. Read more …
Five new National Forum Insights were added to the collection recently, namely, Resources to Support Development of Data-enabled Student Success Strategies, Developing Learning Analytics Policies to Support Student Success, Let’s Talk About Assessment: Exploring QQI’s Green Paper on Assessment in Higher Education, Building Digital Capacity in Irish Higher Education 2013-18 and Supporting Open Education in Irish Higher Education; building on the last of these, the National Forum subsequently published an Open Licensing Toolkit to support the use, creation and sharing of open educational resources (OER).
Funding and Events
The HEA, in partnership with the National Forum, has launched a new once-off non-competitive fund for teaching and learning in higher education. The fund aligns strategically the teaching and learning enhancement funding that has been allocated by the National Forum since 2014 and the additional funding of €5m for teaching and learning capacity building announced in budget 2019 following the Review of the Allocation Model for Funding Higher Education Institutions. The call has a total value of €5.57m.
The call for next academic year’s National Forum seminar series is published on our website with a closing date for submissions of 28 June 2019.
The National Forum is sponsoring and contributing at the European First Year Experience Conference 2019 which will take place in CIT from 17 – 19 June 2019. As a post conference event, the National Forum will host a national thinktank on student success in higher education.
The final events of the National Forum seminar series for this academic year are listed on our website.
On the Horizon
The National Forum will launch National Teaching Research Fellowships towards the end of 2019. The Fellowships will be the highest national individual teaching awards and, as such, are designed to attract applications from colleagues across the sector who have made an outstanding contribution to the practice and scholarship of teaching and learning.
On 24 October 2019 the National Forum will collaborate with the HEA on a national student success event entitled Developing our National Understanding of Student Success. This event is planned as an opportunity to inform a shared vision of student success for Irish higher education.
The National Digital Experience Survey is a national survey of the digital engagement, experiences and expectations of students and teaching staff in Irish higher education. The survey will be coordinated by the National Forum and will take place during October-November 2019.
Building on the delivery of the ‘Getting started with PD – PACT’ badge earlier this year, additional PD short courses leading to badges will be offered during the next academic year through the National Forum PD interface.
As further information is available about all these initiatives we will share this on our website, social media and through National Forum email updates.
The National Forum team has visited institutions and engaged with students, staff and leaders across the sector in recent months. We would very much like to continue to build a community of those invested in teaching and learning in Irish higher education. If you would like to get involved with our work please consider signing up to our National Forum Panel. If you would like to receive updates from us, please sign up here. And if you have any feedback or comments about this ezine, please contact us by email on email@example.com.