A range of future-focused national research projects were announced on 1 July as Ireland’s five inaugural Teaching and Learning Research Fellows began their 18-month Fellowships with the National Forum, in partnership with the Irish Research Council. The five projects have cross-cutting themes that will underpin the implementation and development of national policies and institutional strategies related to employability, interdisciplinarity, gender equity, digital transformation, and graduate outcomes for workplaces and societies of the future. With the advent of a new Government Department focused on higher education and research, the timing of these fellowships is notable, reflecting as it does the important link between evidence, policy and practice in education and in society more broadly.
As the HEA’s Human Capital Initiative, and associated policies such as Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025 and Technology Skills 2022, seek to future proof graduates with industry relevant skills for emerging technologies and promote and embed the transversal skills so important for society and the workplace, the research of Dr Brett Becker and Dr Michelle Flood will be a significant contribution to the achievement of the ambitions of these national initiatives and policies. Dr Becker (UCD) will focus on building evidence to inform the development of skills, knowledge and competencies within a range of disciplines to negotiate realities that are hard to imagine from today’s perspective as technologies such as big data, the internet of things and artificial intelligence revolutionise all disciplines. Dr Flood (RCSI) will build evidence to support the realisation of the promise of interdisciplinarity in Irish higher education, which is increasingly recognised as a core skill for Irish graduates. Her research will examine understandings and applications of interdisciplinarity with a view to sharing related insights across institutions.
Employability and the transfer of knowledge between education and work contexts is also a focus of the research Dr Geraldine O’Neill and Prof Chris Lynch, whose research will inform current and future educational imperatives outlined in strategy and policy documents of the Higher Education Authority, the Department of Education and Skills, and Quality and Qualifications Ireland, particularly with respect to assessment and professional competencies. Higher education and future careers are often bridged for students by work-based learning and this will be the context of the research of Dr O’Neill (UCD). Her study will identify a key challenge experienced by staff and students in the assessment of work-based learning and explore how this challenge is negotiated across Irish higher education, in order to inform related practice and policies. The research of Prof Lynch (UCC) recognises that the development of professionals-in-training is an important area of focus to ensure they are appropriately nurtured, or ‘formed’, to enable their subsequent career success, as well as protecting the public they will serve. Located at the interface of higher education institutions and professional and regulatory bodies in Ireland, his research will focus on collaboratively identifying and embedding the competencies needed by students as they prepare to enter professions.
Both gender equity and the need to promote the participation of women in science have gained increasing visibility in the discourse of policy documents, initiatives and national discussions in recent years. The work of Dr Barry Ryan (TU Dublin) is situated in this space and will consider group work in the sciences and whether there are gendered patterns to how roles and tasked are assigned/chosen by students in mixed-gender groups. While the sciences are the context for the exploration, it is anticipated that the knowledge, understanding and insights generated will be transferable to other fields of study.
The evidence base created through these impressive new studies will reach across and beyond higher education, involving industry partners, professional and regulatory bodies, policy partners and thought leaders, as well as senior managers, staff and students across all higher education institutions. They will inform the future work of the National Forum and contribute towards a valued and informed teaching and learning culture in Irish higher education.
You can read more about the Teaching and Learning Research Fellows and their upcoming research here.