Welcome to the fifth edition of the National Forum ezine where we present voices, experiences and stories from across the higher education sector.
Many thanks to our recently appointed Student Associate Intern and our inaugural National Forum Teaching and Learning’s Research Fellows who contributed all the articles in this edition.
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.
National Forum Team
PD Prompts // Chris Lynch
Teaching for me is like …
One of the things I most enjoy about teaching is …
collaborating with students as they construct new knowledge and understanding.
I know a class has gone well when …
I feel challenged! I encourage my students to debate with me, particularly in my tutorials. Such an approach ensures that students come to tutorials having read around the subject, armed with the relevant information; being able to debate helps the students to engage in deep learning.
If I could research one area of my students’ learning it would be …
how students (in particular student professionals in training) develop on their road to professional registration. Thankfully, I have the option of pursuing this as part of my recently awarded National Forum Teaching and Learning Research Fellowship!
Writing connects with teaching best when …
it is careful, thoughtful and considered.
The social nature of teaching means …
it is crucial to the development of adult learners.
I prefer my learning environment to be …
open, accessible, honest.
drives learning. And it shouldn’t. Learning should mean so much more for our students.
When I use technology I feel …
old! My students are much more knowledgeable and experienced at technology than I am. However, beyond this comment it is also evident that the current generation of students ‘think technology’, and access, construct and store new knowledge in a very different way than people did in the past, myself included. As course leaders and teachers we have to be very aware of the changing nature and expectations of our students.
Technology for students is …
an ever-present gift and an ever-present threat. As intimated above, we are all aware that new generations are ever more entwined with technology than generations before, and their access and retrieval of information is so much different. However, with such enhanced availability of technology comes threats to the mental health and personal freedoms of students.
Teaching matters to me because …
I can help shape the next generations of learners in society. In this era of ‘alternate facts’, ‘fake news’ and the need for ‘fact checking’ on social media news sources, our students deserve an experience that is real and authentic, and if nothing else, teaches them to think for themselves and critically appraise the information they are bombarded with on a daily basis.
If I could change one thing in Irish HE I would …
shift the focus of student success away from the outcomes of assessment alone. We have to do more, and we have to do better at enabling student success. One area which needs more support is that of the mental health and well-being of our students. When I returned to Cork from the UK, I instigated mindfulness training for our students. So much more needs to be done in this area.
Higher education is about …
stimulating the next generation of independent thinkers. They will be the leaders of our societies when we (my generation) have moved on. It is a great responsibility to get this right.
My Teaching & Learning Space // Barry Ryan
Can you hear me?
In the days before 12 March my teaching and learning spaces were ‘normal’; my classes took place in large, windowless, tiered lecture halls with my first-year cohorts and in smaller, flexible learning spaces with my structured PhD group. I worked with colleagues from TU Dublin in a bright, top-floor studio environment exploring and using the TU Dublin CoCREATED Curriculum Shapers. I was also lucky enough to present to colleagues in a smaller group-work room in Maynooth University on integrating technology to enhance teaching and learning. However, after 12 March these ‘normal’ teaching and learning spaces were to be abandoned and a new, online, normal developed.
I had taught online before, inspired by the excellent TU Dublin MSc in Applied eLearning which I completed several years ago; however, this was different! For staff, there was little time to adapt, or pivot as the phrase was coined. There was also little time to prepare students for the change in their learning space. Our normal disappeared very quickly. The familiar chatter as you walk into a lecture hall or group workspace was replaced with an eerie silence in the online classroom.
Can you hear me …?
A flood of thumbs up cascade into the chat box and the class, and conversation, begins. The skill of the lecturer reading and using body language is now superseded by the ability to simultaneously moderate a chat box and facilitate an engaging online class. Making use of our new technology dependent classroom, by blending synchronous and asynchronous learning events or including closed captioning, can make our learning spaces more inclusive for all students. Our new normal learning and teaching spaces may have different sounds, from silence to children playing in the background, but connection making and conversation remain … we just do it in different ways now.
As we look forward to the possibility of returning to our physical learning spaces, I hope to retain some positives from my pivot and to reflect on my lessons learnt. The sights and sounds of our physical learning spaces will be familiar when we return to campus; however, it may feel and smell a little different with increased social distancing and hygiene protocols. One sound that I hope I will not hear as much will be my fitness tracker alarm reminding me to take more steps! Mobility is something that I used to take for granted as I moved between rooms and buildings on campus and it is something that I miss on my much shorter commute to and from my home office!
Stop, Start, Continue // Katie Deegan
- Stop, and actively work against, all forms of racism and social inequalities on campuses.
- Stop recruiting students without adequate support services and infrastructure.
- Stop engaging in tokenistic practices when asking students for their input on developing anything directly affecting their education.
- Stop viewing the Irish language as secondary and as an additional workload when translating policy documentation.
- Stop investing in policies and practices that damage the planet.
- Start engaging and promoting meaningful and intentional student partnership when developing policies and practices.
- Start creating a culture of acceptance and tolerance. Most importantly, start celebrating students’ differences by developing the curriculum to reflect the diversity in the classroom.
- Start investing in our public institutions and creating equitable access to education for all who want to learn in Ireland.
- Start investing adequately in supports for students while they’re attending the higher education institution.
- Start engaging in a campus wide conversation that honestly addresses the issue of sexual assault and all other issues that affect students’ education on our campuses.
- Continue to create more creative and engaging methods to teach digitally and from a distance.
- Continue to provide the passion to create a better institution, Ireland, and world for our graduates and those to come.
- Continue to engage with clubs, societies, and student activists to better the experience of the most disenfranchised by our system.
- Continue the process of creating safe spaces for teachers and learners to engage in debate, ask questions and share experiences.
- Continue to develop and research the solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems.
Technology Tenses // Brett Becker
When I started teaching, feedback was provided to students based on their work either in person, or via written text, perhaps through electronic means such as a virtual learning environment (VLE). Often, it was just a grade and a few comments. Either way, it was a simple loop: student gives teacher work, teacher gives student feedback.
In computing and a few other disciplines, we were also using tools that provided students with feedback for some types of work, for instance, when students were asked to write computer programs. With this approach, if a student made an error, the tool told them (often, poorly) what went wrong. This process, however, was a black box. The teacher had no way of knowing what the tool was telling the student unless they were sitting with the student, or the student passed this feedback on.
What I knew about students’ learning was limited to an attendance sheet, demographic information, whatever I observed, and what students shared with me directly through their work and about their learning.
This semester was the first time I used a VLE that allowed students to easily reflect on their own work, as they complete assessments. I can view their reflections and comment on them – or even assess their reflections. This is a subtle but fundamentally different way of providing feedback, greatly facilitated by technology.
I can see students’ interactions with the VLE which allows me to provide feedback not just on what students have learned, but how they learned. I can see if students are online or not, if they have read messages, and when they viewed material. This is a profound change that makes it possible to provide feedback based on much more than work – feedback on learning behaviour and learning actions.
What I can learn from the computer generated feedback, those technology tools, is also greatly improved. I have access to many of data points (with ethical approval of course) representing feedback that the student receives from their programming tools and their interaction with those tools. Again, I have access to data on actions and behaviours, not just artefacts such as assignment submissions.
Constantly growing flows of data, combined with advanced data processing such as machine learning, will provide great potential for automated, real-time, personalised formative feedback. Soon we could have access to representations of patterns of student work, actions, and behaviours that could help us to better understand how individual students learn.
This will bring us closer than ever to modelling the learning process itself – truly personalised learning. This, combined with pedagogical principles such as mastery learning, could contribute significantly to hugely effective personalised learning which would be possible to scale economically. Using data – and advances in analysing it – combined with human pedagogical expertise, could help us to dispel notions that some students are high achievers while others are not. Instead, all students will be able to learn via routes personally tailored to achieve their own maximum potential.
A Typical Teaching & Learning Day // Michelle Flood
I usually try to beat the rush hour traffic and get into my office at RCSI St Stephen’s Green early. I use this quiet time to reflect and plan, write, or review research students’ progress. As Module Lead for the Year 5 module, Patient Care and Society, my first semester teaching consists of primarily case-based workshops, simulation sessions, and small group teaching sessions with the fifth-year students. I enjoy working closely with students during these sessions while helping them apply their knowledge to complex, real-world patient cases in preparation for their final eight-month placements. In semester two, I lead a design-based social justice module in collaboration with colleagues from NCAD and the TU Dublin School of Creative Arts which is always enjoyable.
I usually grab a coffee before moving onto academic administrative duties. As Year 5 Lead, I meet regularly with the MPharm team, Year 5 team, Practice Educators, APPEL colleagues, faculty from UCC/TCD and student class representatives to ensure that everything is running smoothly. I work on actions arising from other national/institutional service and committee roles before lunch. After getting something to eat, I try to squeeze in a walk around St Stephen’s Green to catch up with colleagues and get some fresh air.
In the afternoon, I usually meet my research team including a post doc, designer, and undergraduate research student working on a Sláintecare-funded project and a research assistant exploring patient and public involvement in research as part of an IRFU Charitable Trust-funded project. I also make sure to check in regularly with the postgraduate students I supervise with the Health Professions Education Centre, help them address problems arising, share feedback on thesis drafts, and provide any other support needed. Finally, as I am a visiting researcher at the Design Institute for Health, a unique collaboration between Dell Medical School and the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, since my Fulbright there in 2018, I sometimes have meetings later in the evening due to time difference. If not, I walk home which is a great way to end a busy day.
NF News // National Forum Team
National INDEx Survey Report
The seven weeks since the launch of the Irish National Digital Experience (INDEx) Survey Report have given an indication of its early reach and impact. The launch itself, which took place online on 7 May 2020, attracted over 300 national and international registrations; the INDEx findings report and summary have been viewed 1863 times since publication. Since the sharing of the findings and the institutional datasets, colleagues from across the sector have been able to conduct further analysis and benchmarking. The survey has provided evidence of student and staff experiences of digital teaching and learning, has given the sector a rich base from which to plan for the future and has pointed to ways in which staff and students can collectively enhance digital teaching and learning through shared decision-making approaches, through exploration of data privacy policies and digital policies and resources, and through staff development processes. Echoing the national approach, many institutions plan to publish their own INDEx reports and infographics, as well as to conduct additional qualitative and quantitative analyses of findings.
The first of a series of INDEx Survey infographics can be accessed here.
You can also follow developments related to the INDEx Survey on Twitter via @ForumTL and #INDExSurvey.
Professional Development Short Courses
A brief look back
Four fully online open courses reached a successful conclusion in the past semester, all delivered by the original development team. The National Forum worked with both the original development teams and nationally registered Facilitators of these open courses to comprehensively evaluate the courses recently. The findings of the evaluations will be used to refine the open courses platform and supports for the future.
In addition to these four courses, the IUA Getting Started with Personal and Professional Digital Capacity digital badge has recently been completed; this course is an example of a National Forum-endorsed partnership digital badge available through the Open Courses platform.
The newly developed IUA Campus Engage Community Engagement online open course will be available early next academic year. In addition, further new open courses will be added to the National Forum’s calendar for Autumn 2020 as will many of our popular existing courses including the UDL open course in partnership with AHEAD. Colleagues interested in receiving updates can register here.
We are delighted that our open courses are also being integrated into some accredited programmes across the sector, e.g., the Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice in MIC, and the MA in T&L programme in GMIT.
Working together during social distancing
Despite the restrictions placed on the higher education sector and more broadly during the lockdown, collaboration was as central to the work of the National Forum as ever. Two publications underpinned by collaboration were published by the National Forum since April 2020: the ‘Learning about Impact and Looking to the Future: Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund Projects 2014-18’ and ‘Reflecting and Learning: The move to remote/online teaching and learning in Irish higher education’. Both publications draw on the collective experiences of colleagues across the sector and emphasis the importance of supporting each other to achieve impact and foster student success.
Likewise, collaboration is central to the DELTA Award. The revised DELTA Award application process and associated resources were announced to the sector over May and June 2020, as was the first application deadline which is 10 July.
And collaboration will be integral to how the inaugural National Forum Teaching and Learning Research Fellows will work to achieve their goals over the coming 18 months. The Fellows, who were announced in June, will complete individual research projects which connect under shared themes of strategic importance and which, when taken together, will provide a substantial evidence base for sectoral planning and future decision making.
Finally, collaboration was woven into our work with QQI on work based assessment, with the National Forum board including international board members on our discussions around the sustainability of the National Forum, with our National Forum Associates in our meetings and ongoing work with them, and with AHEAD during their April Conference.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.