Welcome to the second edition of the National Forum ezine where we present voices, experiences and stories from across the higher education sector.
Many thanks to those colleagues who have contributed the articles in this edition. Their inputs are professional and authentic, as well as being informal and utterly engaging.
Do contact us with comments about the ezine; we’d be delighted to hear from you not least if you are interested in writing for the next edition.
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National Forum Team
PD Prompts // Helen Murphy
Teaching for me is like …
an opportunity to open doors, open ideas and share insights with learners (in my case adult learners) that enable us collectively to grow, to challenge and to contribute.
One of the things I most enjoy about teaching is …
co-creating and co-developing new insights with our learners, appreciating that we (myself and my learners) need to continually challenge and be challenged.
I know a class has gone well when …
we have had active debate, participation and lots of questions – arguments are listened to and we hear multiple views of the ideas and concepts presented.
If I could research one area of my students’ learning, it would be …
what makes learners become lifelong learners – what do we need to do to ensure learning is lifelong and life-wide.
Writing connects with teaching best when …
it is informed by practice, it illustrates the connection between theory and practice and provokes debate, questions and reflection.
The social nature of teaching and learning means …
it is not limited to a time or place; it engages us with the world around us and gives us a social platform to connect with others.
I prefer my learning environment to be …
collaborative, inclusive, interactive and democratic.
can take multiple forms and should offer learners an opportunity to apply their learning in a way that allows for growth.
When I use technology, I feel …
connected, accessible and responsive. I also feel challenged as new technologies emerge and I am mindful of how we balance the social aspects of learning with technology enhanced learning.
Technology for students is …
enabling and challenging; it can act as a powerful facilitator of learning or a barrier to learners. We do need to be aware of the digital divide and ensure inclusive and informed approaches to how we use technology to support learning.
Teaching matters to me because …
it is a powerful space where concepts and ideas are explored, shared and challenged. It can help shape lives, our communities and our world.
If I could change one thing in Irish HE, I would …
extend access to higher education to all learners, removing barriers (financial, social and cultural) and ensuring equality of opportunity.
Higher education is about…
changing lives, offering opportunities, challenging the status quo and preparing us for our future in an inclusive and meaningful way.
My Teaching & Learning Space // Stephen Mc Carron
Killiney Bay, Co Wicklow: A multidimensional space for Physical Geography teaching.
As a glacial geomorphologist, my research aims to reconstruct events associated with past glaciations of Ireland. Ultimately we hope to use this knowledge to improve our understanding of changes underway in modern polar environments e.g. Greenland and West Antarctica. Throughout Ireland, highly dynamic behemoth ice sheets over one kilometre thick in places helped gouge and scrape limestone and granite into flat plains and rolling uplands, infilling pre-existing basins with the eroded sediments. They also appear to have rapidly decayed away, forming an important analogue of accelerating ice losses across the planet today. In my teaching practice, one aim is to help students to visualise this Irish landscape as not only a modern, but an ancient glacial one; a space filled with the ghosts of past glaciers.
In some settings, for example within the basin of Killiney Bay, Co. Wicklow, the last glaciation has left substantial accumulations of sediments in a convenient location that can be visited over a half-day field trip. The coastline of Killiney Bay comprises a typical Irish east coast grey stony beach, backed by a near-vertical, 5 km long and up to 15 m high cliff of eroding soft, loose sediment. As such, it is an immediately familiar landscape to all visitors (including students), complete with wind, sun, rain (often all at the same time), dog-walkers and bathers.
Generally all activity by other visitors is directed seaward. However, on a glacial geology field visit, by stopping and turning inland, the students are asked instead to see the beach as simply a freshly eroded location where they can examine the nature and intricate geometry of the sediment accumulations making up the land surface they have just traversed to get there. The familiar, washed-up rusting cans and frayed ropes, seagull squawks and decaying seaweed smells of the beach-scape are now somewhat overlain and transformed. This is now a place of glacial aged stories and visions never heard before, written in sediments little noticed.
The familiar space also becomes one of new intellectual challenge, not just of leisure activity. Learning activities in the form of different description and analysis activities to suit a range of abilities can be designed to accommodate all types of cohorts and levels of previous training in science. In my experience, students quickly appreciate the challenges of attempting even the most basic description of the extensive site. They enjoy working out how to summarise, classify and represent it effectively to others. The need to have successfully absorbed the contents of previous classes becomes clear, and the intellectual difficulty in defining ‘truth’ and ‘the right answer’ in its interpretation becomes obvious.
As a teaching space the open, publicly accessible beach feels surprisingly intimate and protected. Generally, class groups are ignored by other beachgoers: objects of quiet curiosity and sideways glances by the local regular visitors. Visiting the beach is frequently a highly rewarding experience, especially for those students who already enjoy the outdoors. For me it can be challenging in terms of organising a relatively long class in busy student timetables and encouraging students to undertake an exercise outside most comfort zones. Fieldwork is generally becoming more difficult to organise, and relatively local sites are thus highly valuable. Engaged students will often revisit these places themselves to redouble their efforts in their own time to address the assignments. This necessitates a safe and easily accessible location, but it is rewarding as a teacher to hear that students want to return to have a second look. The transformation of this beach space to a former glacial environment, replete with images of crevassed, melting ice sheet margins, glacial lakes and ice bergs, is hopefully the start of viewing the entire Irish landscape in a similar multi-dimensional way.
Stop, Start, Continue // Rachel Dunne & Amelia McConville
- Stop growing student numbers without ensuring that adequate resources are available for both them and the current students.
- Stop to reflect on whether old teaching methods, modules and courses, that are still in use, are as beneficial as they can be today.
- Stop to consider how relevant the module content is to the students you are teaching; consider their backgrounds, cultures, and career goals.
- Stop to reconsider the trend of prioritising disciplines that are largely associated with future profitable ventures.
- Stop engaging with initiatives, practices, and corporations that are harming the environment.
- Start considering students’ personal situations when they are absent from class or are unable to complete coursework.
- Start prioritising students’ holistic development and the student support services that are necessary to help them succeed in their journey through higher education.
- Start actively supporting your students in issues that are directly affecting them and their higher education experience.
- Start providing more funding for interdisciplinary projects and collaborative research opportunities.
- Start engaging further in a culture of pedagogy driven by facilitating open-ended questions across disciplines.
- Start opening up even more educational opportunities for disadvantaged and minority groups within society.
- Continue to give constructive feedback and feed-forward to students throughout the semester.
- Continue to focus on students’ careers post-graduation and on ensuring that they are prepared and informed for their future.
- Continue fostering an attitude of collaboration and open discussion between disciplines and across different types of research.
- Continue facilitating an atmosphere where both staff and students can share ideas in informal contexts.
- Continue supporting environmentally conscious initiatives designed to offset the effects of the climate crisis, such as divesting from fossil fuels, banning single use plastics on campus, etc.
Technology Tenses // Tom Farrelly
Over 30 years ago I was a metalwork teacher (no fancy titles then) in the City of Dublin VEC. At the time I had a ZX Spectrum 48K and so somehow I got roped into teaching ‘computers’ – that great catch-all phrase. We had BBC micro PCs and I stayed about one week ahead of my class. In those days computers, as an object and a subject, was very much seen as something different and distinct and not intertwined into the everyday world of education and certainly not to be used in an everyday context by everyone. In much the same way that those early pioneers who owned and could drive a motorcar I imagine!
I can’t believe the journey that I and the world of technology have come on over the past 20 or 30 years. I am writing this piece on a desktop without the need to understand or manage anything more complex than the QWERTY keyboard. I teach and communicate with people who are spread around Ireland and across the world. I’m not naïve enough to think that technology enhanced learning will lead to a wholesale democratisation of access to higher education. Nonetheless, I still marvel at what is being achieved in terms of facilitating access and the potential for the creation of meaningful and engaging learning environments free from the confines of four walls.
Though I remain a critical technophile, I am optimistic about the opportunities afforded by technology and in particular love the potential affordances of virtual and augmented reality. I like the way that the term technology enhanced learning provides a more inclusive conception than the restrictive terms of e-learning or online learning which relegate the role of technology to a marginalised arena rather than being an integral component of higher education for full as well as part-time and distance students. As to the role of artificial intelligence and machine learning I will reserve judgement. At this point in time I would simply be happy for all of Ireland to have good quality hi-speed broadband!
A Typical Teaching & Learning Day // Barry Ryan
‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’ (Søren Kierkegaard)
My typical teaching and learning day often entails facing backward to go forward; a commute from the midlands to TU Dublin by train gives time to both reflect and plan. It also provides a space to deal with some academic administrative duties and address outstanding emails that arrive in my Inbox overnight. I refer to my train journey as my mobile office, complete with Wi-Fi and plug socket. This allows me to arrive into my actual office ready for the day ahead and, as clichéd as it sounds, no two days are the same.
My Semester One teaching is split between pure and applied undergraduate biochemistry and the fundamentals of pedagogy and discipline-specific educational research at postgraduate level as part of the TU Dublin Structured PhD programme. Each module, each class, each student is unique, and I aim to create an inclusive, stimulating and informative session each time I teach. In early year undergraduate classes in particular, cohort sizes can be quite large and it can be easy for students to feel disconnected from the lecture. I believe that students add real value to their understanding by actively participating in class. To achieve this, I base my classes around suitably designed learning activities, often supported by a judicious blend of technology. Fundamental biochemistry readily lends itself to this approach; for example, whole class, real-time, structural biomolecule annotation is easily achieved via the Draw It function within Nearpod. Similarly, technology-enhanced peer instruction is a teaching and learning approach that I currently champion in TU Dublin. This involves digitally scaffolding, supporting and documenting peer instruction to create a hybridised learning space where students learn with, and from, their peers whilst developing complementary soft skills and graduate attributes in a safe, technology-enhanced environment.
Such is the eclectic mix of my Semester One modules, that I move directly from a large class, technology enhanced environment to a much smaller, final year cohort to consult on advanced bioprocessing. I use the word ‘consult’ deliberately, as that is exactly what I do during our time together in class. I teach this module through dynamic, problem based learning whereby I take the role of a CEO of a large multi-national bioprocessing company and the students work collaboratively, in small groups, to design and develop a novel bioprocess based on weekly memos from their CEO. This class is dynamic for both the students and for me; we have a destination, but we are not sure of the path to get there. This allows the students to build on their experiences from their industry placements in third year and also to explore potential roles they might consider post-graduation.
A break between classes allows me to catch-up with my research students; some are focusing on different areas of applied enzymology, whilst others are exploring educational research topics. Currently, three of my lab-based students are coming to the end of their PhD journeys where they discovered, engineered and exploited enzymes for use in environmental bioremediation, food and pharmaceutical industries respectively. It is rewarding to see a graduate transform into a research professional over the lifetime of a PhD; however, for now, my time with these students is spent concentrating on supporting their dissertation write-up and research dissemination.
Keeping up to speed with academic administration, such as my programme chair responsibilities, and other projects that I am involved in, is the final part of my daily time-juggling act. At the moment, one of the major projects that I lead is the TU Dublin Teaching Fellowship (Co-CREATE). The aim of this project is to develop a quality curriculum framework that will provide a distinctive, tangible learning philosophy and empower the creation of rich and diverse curricula across all disciplines and levels of TU Dublin. Engaging with colleagues and students across the three physical campuses of TU Dublin on such strategic projects reminds me of the huge transformation that I have been part of since I started lecturing in ‘DIT’ ten years ago. It also fills me with optimism for the future changes that lie ahead, including our impending move to our new campus in Grangegorman.
It is important to reflect on the past and look forward to the future, but you also have to live in the present and, with that, it is the usual rush to jump on a LUAS, and then on a train home at the end of the day – and some more backward-facing forward movement!
NF News // National Forum Team
Launch of INDEx Survey
The National Forum, in partnership with higher education institutions across the country and their representative bodies, will oversee the implementation of Ireland’s first national survey of the digital experience, expectations and engagement of two key groups – students and all staff who teach in Irish higher education. The INDEx Survey gives the 28 participating higher education institutions a rare opportunity to contribute to the evidence that informs decision-making around digital within their institutions.
The Irish National Digital Experience (INDEx) Survey will be formally launched on 14 October 2019. See more here.
Review of 2018 Projects
The mid-term reviews of the 8 Group 2 2018 T&L funded projects will take place on Friday October 25th. If you would like to learn more about all the 2018 funded projects, please click on the following link where you can find
- the review presentations of the 8 Group 1 2018 T&L funded projects
- short video-recorded summaries of the Group 1 2018 T&L funded projects
- written summaries of all 16 2018 projects
Some very exciting work in progress across all four projects types.
A number of events are scheduled for the upcoming semester including: the 2019/20 National Seminar Series which was launched this September; Developing Enabling Policies for Digital and Open Teaching and Learning regional workshop on 23 October to support those in Irish higher education who are engaged in institutional policy development, or who would like to contribute to institutional policies, in the areas of digital and/or open teaching and learning; Student Success Symposium: Developing our national understanding of student success, an event to be hosted by the Higher Education Authority, in partnership with the National Forum, on the morning of 24 October 2019; Learning Analytics: What Works webinar on 6 November 2019.
Upcoming Professional Development Open Courses
A number of professional development short courses will take place in the coming months, including the online option for the ‘Universal Design for Learning’ short course and a second iteration of the online option for the ‘Getting Started with Professional Development – PACT’ short course . Online options for other short courses are currently under development and will be announced in due course. Information on all National Forum professional development short courses, including self-study, online and facilitated options, can be found at opencourses.teachingandlearning.ie
All eligible higher education institutions have now nominated institutional leads for the Strategic Alignment of Teaching and Learning Enhancement Funding in Higher Education 2019. The fund, with a total value of €5.57m, represents a significant commitment to the enhancement of teaching and learning in Irish higher education. The investment is designed to enable the development of a strong foundation for future enhancement of teaching and learning within institutions in line with local priorities. The deadline for institutional submissions is 8 October 2019 and it is anticipated that teaching and learning initiatives will commence in November 2019.
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