Welcome to the fourth 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.
Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Forum Team
PD Prompts // Wayne Gibbons
Teaching for me is like …
a pleasurable challenge. Every day is different, but the interaction with young minds makes it very much worthwhile.
One of the things I most enjoy about teaching is …
the discussions that arise in most classes. I think it is important that students feel at ease enough to engage in a conversation, and that’s where some of the best learning takes place.
I know a class has gone well when …
I feel I’ve learned something out if it too. I like when the students make me think, because it’s important to not get complacent.
If I could research one area of my students’ learning, it would be …
the learner experience. Recently I completed a Doctorate in Education, where I explored the student perceptions and responses to digital open badges. Part of that concerned learner motivation, and I really think lecturers have a role to play in that aspect.
Writing connects with teaching best when …
it is grounded in something useful for everyone. I teach civil engineering students predominantly, so practical outputs that reflect what will be expected of them in the real world are essential.
The social nature of teaching and learning is …
more important than anything else. With digital open badges, I have found a means of recognising, promoting and rewarding actions and behaviours that are socially constructed: these are the traits that are vital after graduation, but which do not usually get recognised in those cases where a subject generates nothing more than a numerical grade.
I prefer my learning environment to be …
friendly, challenging, open to digression from the plan.
is a double-edged sword! It can be great, when it results in feedback that helps progress the learner towards their goal without penalising them. It can also be demotivating if focussed purely on a numerical grade.
When I use technology, I feel …
excited! I like to keep up with the latest technological developments, and I get a buzz if I come across something that I think will make a positive difference to the learning environment if I try it out. Like badges!
Technology for students is …
only good if it brings a benefit. There are so many technological tools available nowadays, that it can be overwhelming for the student and the lecturer. I think we owe the students a measured approach, where we only ask them to get involved with learning technology intended to enhance their experience, rather than imposing ed-tech for the sake of it.
Teaching matters to me because …
if it is done in a collegiate way that engages learners, it can make a difference to the lives of our students. Teaching (and of course learning) is something that never really ends, and I would like to think that during the formal stage in higher education, we can facilitate learning in and out of the classroom in a way that encourages life-long learning.
If I could change one thing in Irish higher education, I would …
re-consider how we assess. There are technical skills that are suited to technical tests and numerical results, of course; however I think there should also be space made for encouraging and recognising other important skills (such as peer-learning, personal/professional development, mentoring) that can fall through the cracks of a grade-based assessment environment.
Higher education is about …
giving students a great starting point for their careers and continued development. Even if a graduate ends up in a different field than they studied, the higher education experience should be useful in making that person well-rounded enough to be adaptable and dependable in their approach to life.
My Teaching & Learning Space // Michael O’Grady
Mentoring is an understated activity in the treadmill that constitutes third-level education provision and research, demanding both advising and the sharing of experiences. I mentor mostly postdocs and, occasionally, postgrads. It is always an informal process as ad-hoc seminars are organised for group sessions. Thus, my teaching space does not encompass the traditional lecture theatre and classroom; the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation does not form part of my pedagogical toolkit. My favourite tools include the formal whiteboard and the informal local caffeine dock.
A mentoring space is pervasive as opportunities are usually unexpected; I may even find them unwelcome. Nonetheless, openings must be identified and immediately availed of to yield maximum benefit. Attention is guaranteed, and a better impact for the student achieved. Intense attention on my part is demanded, and the urge to rush must be resisted as a small effort can reap rich dividends. No two sessions are the same; sessions are invariably one-to-one. Paradoxically, mentoring complements and diametrically contrasts with conventional teaching and learning.
Conceptually, I am always moving across spaces as a critical challenge in computing concerns how to manage multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in a field which transcends discipline boundaries. Such transcending demands collaboration with teams from other disciplines when addressing complex problems. It demands a willingness to seek ownership of aspects of another subject. The singular nature of many postgraduate courses poses difficulties that must be subsequently negotiated at the postdoctoral level. Mentoring offers first-line support for postdocs seeking to pursue academic or research careers.
My learning space is unorthodox. It is embedded in the policy documents that continuously emerge from international organisations such as the UN, FAO, OECD and EU. It demands attending briefing sessions at the Berlaymont in Brussels, remotely or in person. Here, I learn what research is needed to inform policy at the EU level, how such research will be funded, and what future and emergent technologies are envisaged for future societies. In this way, my research agenda is informed, and I am well-positioned to mentor postdocs on possible research opportunities and potential career developments.
Stop, Start, Continue // Rachel & Amelia
Six months ago, we began this journey as Student Associate Interns with different backgrounds but a similar belief – that the students should be at the centre of teaching and learning.
Throughout the internship, we visited higher level institutes, sat on National Forum committees, attended Forum events, and met with staff and students in the sector. We assisted with the promotion of the INDEx Survey, facilitated discussions at the Student Success Symposium, reviewed institution funding proposals, and attended the European University Association 2020 European Learning and Teaching Forum, to name but a few of our activities. As a result of it all, we believe that we have obtained a much clearer view of the higher education sector and we have gained lots of interesting insights and lessons along the way.
Our very first task with the National Forum was to write a Stop, Start, Continue article for the National Forum’s ezine and we felt it was only fitting to write a stop, start, continue reflection to end the internship.
- thinking of higher education from exclusively the perspective of our own institutions and experiences.
- viewing student success with a black and white lens. Student success means something different for everyone, as outlined in Lee O’Farrell’s report Understanding and Enabling Student Success in Irish Higher Education.
- thinking that reactive support systems are the only way to safeguard student wellbeing. The integration of wellbeing supports across the entire institution is needed, as emphasised in sparqs’ presentation at the 2020 EUA Learning and Teaching Forum.
- recognising the importance of digital teaching and learning in the higher education sector.
- recognising the importance of supporting and developing centres for teaching and learning in higher level institutions.
- realising the importance of the reciprocal relationship between the National Forum and students to ensure that the student voice is central in all higher education matters.
We will continue to…
- have huge respect and admiration for the National Forum team and all of the highly committed members of the higher education sector.
- develop our awareness of the communication structures that are in place between the different national organisations to support and influence the higher education landscape in Ireland.
- support and engage with our new understanding of digital learning as it comes to the fore of Irish education.
- recognise that higher education institutions will always need to adapt with the changing needs of students in a modern context.
The National Forum team is very grateful for the valuable contributions made by Amelia and Rachel and the positive ways in which they influenced our work. We wish them the best in the bright futures that lie before them.
Technology Tenses // Orla Murphy
I remember emerging from a cloud of chalk dust having taught an Old English grammar class that was predominantly a “call and response” of possibilities and differences … and consequently lots of rubbing out and re-chalking the range of endings, singular, plural, masculine, feminine, neutral. It didn’t help that I was wearing a black coat, and carrying a black bag. I dusted myself down later that day as I went into my son’s primary school classroom for his parent-teacher meeting. There they had small, handheld, bright yellow cameras, with USBs attached. The ten year olds were making their own documentary – cutting, editing, choosing the best angles and learning new software in the process. It was a reminder that the then predominant room setup of blackboard and chalk was meeting some needs of the students in HE, but not all. I left the meeting conscious that we in HE needed to do more.
We are fortunate in my Department; we have worked closely with Audio Visual Services, the Computer Centre, and Buildings and Estates at University College Cork to create a distributed, active, teaching and learning space for the Digital Humanities. Encouraging a bring your own device (BYOD) approach, we have 3 Wi-Fi boosters, Mirroring 360, touchscreens, facility to record and broadcast, the ability to toggle between 3 screens (right, left and centre of the room), and flexible seating with rollaway tables and chairs. The room is full of charging points! Depending on class size, this affords us the potential to do more. The challenge is enabling the pedagogies with educators and parallel competences with students for the transformation possible in this digitally-enabled environment. We imbue our course content with information and data literacy, with digital content creation, and with critical analysis of technology, but as ever it’s a case of lots done and more to do.
‘Digitality’ – working towards a society where citizens are digitally literate/competent and where this digital knowledge is thought of as urgently as its parallel ‘sustainability’ in terms of the national agenda. HEIs in Ireland are integral to achieving this goal with and for our students, ourselves, and society as a whole.
Moving beyond the hardware, my future focus is on embedding a profound awareness of digitality across the disciplines via learning, teaching, and assessment for students. In this I am thinking of digitality as a concept that is as foundational as the three ‘Rs’; included as a learning outcome in all modules, and, as appropriate, based on EU DigComp 2.1, mixed in with a technological, pedagogical and content knowledge approach (TPACK). As platforms proliferate, as ubiquitous data is tracked, as democracy is threatened by bots and fake news, I ask myself how may I best integrate digital knowledge and digital awareness into how I teach, as well as what I teach, in order to create graduates that are insightful citizens and data stewards both inside and outside HE.
A Typical Teaching & Learning Day // Aoife Prendergast
I split my time between our Limerick and Ennis Campus, lecturing on both the BA (Hons) in Social Care Work and BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and Care. I start my day at our Ennis Campus, which opened in September 2019 and has given Ennis a leading platform for access to higher education across Co. Clare. It is a source of pride that the county town now offers third level education and I often receive comments of gratitude from the locals that LIT opened a campus here.
I review my diary for the day each morning. In my role as Lecturer and Programme Lead, I aim to provide our students with a high quality learning experience. I do this by continually finding time in my schedule to explore new concepts and developments in teaching and learning. This morning I am utilising problem-based learning with my early childhood education and care students, which is proving both constructive and engaging for the students
I pop into the canteen for my first coffee of the day (I’m doing my best to cut back!) and I have a chat with fellow colleagues and students as they tuck into their mid-morning snacks. Then it’s back to the seminar room; this time, my focus is on preparing students for their practice education placements. In my role as Programme Lead, I co-ordinate and manage the practice education component of the BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and Care. This involves a multitude of tasks including individual discussions with students and communication with our local agencies and stakeholders as well as developing robust documentation to support practice educators and students. Practice education is a signature pedagogy in our Ennis programme and connects well with our LIT Teaching and Learning Strategy Ethos of the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning through engagement, innovation and enhancement.
Today, I have a scheduled teleconference call with fellow Programme Leads from our two other campuses – Limerick and Thurles. It is in these short lunchtime meetings where I learn about developments and updates in other campuses as well as ideas for improving the student experience.
My lectures finish in Ennis at 4 p.m. and I make my way back to my Limerick (Moylish) campus base. I enjoy my commute between campuses and find my Apple carplay an essential tool in helping me to return and make calls. On my drive this evening, I make a number of calls to practice educators to check in regarding practice education placements.
I reach Moylish and my day continues with administrative work, emails and preparation for lectures. I meet with a student to review progress in relation to their final year dissertation. Afterwards, I also meet with one of my postgraduate research students to discuss plans to submit an abstract for a conference in Belfast later on in the academic year. This postgraduate research is exploring the nexus of supervisory dynamics in contemporary social care practice education placements.
It is at this time of the day, I review my focus and time management for the week. There are some tasks that I plan to complete over the next few days for example, update reading lists, upload additional material to Moodle pages and prepare online lectures for a blended learning programme I deliver in the evenings.
One final but urgent task before I leave – I have a Skype call regarding a European Conference, with my European colleagues. I am the Secretary General and the Irish representative for FESET (Formation d’Educateurs Sociaux Europeens) – the European Association of Training Centres for Socio-Education and Social Pedagogy is a bilingual executive with representatives from higher education institutions across Europe.
We are preparing for our three-day European conference in Portugal in April. The weeks are ticking by and it is a challenging task to remotely plan for a European event with colleagues from Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, France and Portugal. However, Skype, Zoom and even WhatsApp ensure favourable communications for us all. We have a number of issues that need to be resolved and we agree tasks and arrange another Skype meeting for the following week.
As the day comes to a close, I’m looking forward to Tuesday already – it’s my colleague’s birthday and there will be cake!
HEIku // Sean Ruane
Hospitality. The proof
of the pudding is …
NF News // National Forum Team
NF News // National Forum Team
Supporting Teaching and Learning through COVID-19
During this extraordinary time we have been considering what we can do to best help the sector to work together and share expertise to support teaching and learning. Our first steps have been to create a shared list of resources, to establish a community space for National Forum Associates, to publish relevant one page ‘top tips’ and to explore what we can do in terms of contingency planning around events and deadlines. You can read more about this work here and find all related resources here. If you have any ideas around how we can continue to support the sector now please get in touch.
Ireland’s Teaching and Learning Research Fellowships
In January 2020, the National Forum, in partnership with the Irish Research Council, launched Ireland’s inaugural Teaching and Learning Research Fellowships. A total of 54 applications, from across 16 Irish higher education institutions, were received. The applications were reviewed by an international expert panel and by a student representative. Following this longlisting, a total of 26 applicants from across 11 higher education institutions were invited to Stage 2 of the selection process. As with Stage 1, an international panel will review Stage 2 applications, which will result in a short list of ‘Fellowship Nominees’ who will progress to the final selection phase. Further information about the Fellowships is available here.
Launch of National INDEx Survey Report
The National Forum intends to launch the Irish National Digital Experience (INDEx) Survey report on 7 May 2020. Given the current circumstances, we are revisiting our original plans which were to have the launch in The Light House Cinema, Dublin. The INDEx Survey was completed by nearly 30,000 students, and staff who teach, from across 34 institutions in the Irish higher education sector. The national report will summarise findings across the entire sector providing a national benchmark for individual institutional findings, as well as international benchmarks with results from similar surveys in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Further information about the INDEx Survey is available here.
Strategic Alignment of Teaching and Learning Enhancement (SATLE) Funding Initiatives
The Strategic Alignment of Teaching and Learning Enhancement (SATLE) fund is supporting 107 teaching and learning initiatives across 22 institutions. The fund has a total value of €5.57m. Because of the current situation we have worked with the HEA to adjust the reviews and deadlines associated with the initiatives. The completion date for all SATLE initiatives has now been extended to 30 May 2021 to ensure we maximise the full impact of the initiatives. In light of this change, the planned mid-year reviews in June 2020 have been rescheduled to February/March 2021. At the moment it is intended that the reviews scheduled for 22 – 25 September 2020 will go ahead as arranged. In addition, the planned face-to-face meeting of SATLE teams scheduled for the 22 April 2020 will be rescheduled but we intend to run a webinar on that date for all institutional leads.
National Forum Board Hold Teaching and Learning Thinktank
The Board of the National Forum held a thinktank towards the end of 2019 which focused on the strategic direction of the National Forum over the coming years. Presentations were given by Assistant Secretary at the Department of Education and Skills, Mr William Beausang, CEO of the Higher Education Authority, Dr Alan Wall, and Chief Economist at Ibec, Mr Gerard Brady, each of whom provided insights from their national policy contexts on the place of teaching and learning in higher education in Ireland. The impact of the changing higher education context, including the introduction of the the Higher Education Commission and the Human Capital Initiative, was considered in detail. The presentations provided context for focused discussions centring on the role the National Forum can play in building a long-term sectoral strategy for teaching and learning and working towards a higher education sector with teaching and learning at its centre.
Professional Development Short Courses
A suite of open-access short courses was launched in early 2019. Each of these short courses is aligned to one or more domains of the National Professional Development Framework for all staff with a teaching role in Irish higher education, and each includes engaging content and activities of 25 learner effort hours, resulting in the award of a National Forum digital badge.
To date, four short courses are being delivered online:
- The Getting Started with Professional Development – PACT short course was delivered online and facilitated by the National Forum in early 2019, with two subsequent PACT iterations facilitated by colleagues in WIT and CCT College and in TU Dublin Tallaght Campus.
- The Universal Design in Teaching and Learning, delivered online by AHEAD.
- Programme Focused Assessment, facilitated by colleagues in TCD and UCD
- Getting Started with Online Teaching, facilitated by colleagues in RCSI and UL
A short course focused on recognition of prior learning will be offered in May 2020 and will be facilitated by colleagues in CIT and MIC.
All the above online short courses also include an option to earn an additional facilitator badge in the same timeframe. A facilitator badge will enable you to deliver the same short course that you have completed, in your own institution at a time that suits the needs of staff there.
For more information on all professional development short courses, including information about up-coming courses, please visit the National Forum’s Professional Development Interface here and sign up to receive notifications.
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.