Welcome to the sixth edition of the National Forum ezine where we present voices, experiences and stories from across the higher education sector.
Many thanks to our international colleagues who contributed the majority of 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.
Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Forum Team
PD Prompts // Mary Deane Sorcinelli
Teaching for me is like …
being a “spark” for lighting learning but not the roaring fire—that is the work of students.
One of the things I most enjoy about teaching is …
the moments when the pieces of learning align—goal, plan, pedagogy, connections with students, and outcomes. For me, these are sought after and valued spaces.
I know a class has gone well when…
I can see the class through the students’ eyes. I’ll ask them, “What was the most important idea that you learned in class today? What was less clear for you? At what moment did you feel most engaged? distanced?”
If I could research one area of students’ learning it would be…
the impact of small, actionable modifications to a course versus an extensive overhaul. To what degree does “small teaching” deepen student understanding of material or expand student capacity to analyze and improve their own learning?
Writing connects with teaching best when…
we make a distinction between high stakes and low stakes assignments and about how much a piece of writing counts. The goal of frequent low stakes writing is not so much to produce an excellent piece of writing but to get students to think, learn and understand more of the course material. This leads students to write better when they face high stakes assignments.
The social nature of teaching means …
that the teacher, student, and subject are woven together into the community that learning requires—mutually engaged, collaborative, reflective.
I prefer my learning environment to be …
one of structure with openness to change, of commitment to knowledge and understanding, of willingness to take risks, and one that builds a bridge between the course and life outside of the classroom.
raises big questions, especially with the sudden move to remote classrooms. I am rethinking what learning matters most and how to evaluate that learning. Issues of equity and academic integrity are on my mind and those of many of my colleagues. Will these challenges create occasions for innovation?
When I use technology, I feel …
challenged to teach as well online or hybrid as in face-to-face. This entails figuring out how to design for student learning, build community, give feedback, motivate students, and foster their persistence and success (and mine).
Technology for students is …
deceptive because students are tech-savvy across various domains and applications, but learning with technology also requires being organized, good at managing time, aware of when to seek help, persistence, and staying connected to peers and the teacher.
Teaching matters to me because …
teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal—or keep them from learning much at all. In learning, the subject and students matter, but so does the teacher.
If I could change one thing in HE I would …
address the institutional and cultural barriers that keep teachers from embracing evidence-informed practices in their classrooms. I am speaking of deep-seated customs, faculty reward structures, time and resources, and support for faculty professional learning.
Higher education is about …
possibility, opportunity. Beyond extrinsic measures like expanded job opportunities and higher earnings, a college degree helps students grow and develop intellectually and personally. Higher education is the place where intellect and emotion and spirit can converge.
My Teaching & Learning Space // Manuel João Costa
After spending over 20 years teaching in higher education, my current understanding is that the teaching and learning spaces that I most cherish are not mine really. In the beginning, I felt they were totally mine. I saw teaching as my territory. I prepared myself to perform the best I knew in the classroom spaces assigned to me. And I used to try hard to convey to my students my careful selection of exciting concepts.
Curiously, I now see that I did not always practice this theory. Even relatively early in my career, I used to enjoy interacting with students in lecture breaks or in other moments outside class time. I found out useful information about student issues within my courses, so I have always had a good sense about the importance of those moments. I have come to realise that the most valuable gain in those moments, was when I would understand why students might be having issues. I could learn about their most serious difficulties and offer guidance and support. Such spaces that are/were not “mine” have probably been crucial for some of my students; in such spaces they may have most clearly considered me as their teacher.
Looking back, I now think that the scheduled teaching spaces, for me, have been my fundamental learning spaces. They gave me the frustrations sometimes about feeling unable to activate or ignite student participation or curiosity. They were necessary for me to conclude that I needed to drop my intuitions about teaching. That has led me to dive into understanding from the literature how teaching and learning might actually work.
The lessons I learned teaching students, I now practice in my training of teachers. I constantly try strategies and ideas to stimulate teachers to engage in conversations about teaching and learning with other teachers. And I have been fortunate to be able to apply that lesson to myself, professionally. In this regard, I strive to meet international colleagues, face to face or remotely, to take part in communities around the world and certainly in Ireland. This is certainly among the parts of my teaching and learning space which I cherish the most.
Stop, Start, Continue // Kevin McStravock
Stop looking at learning purely through the lens of outputs, such as results. The value of learning can truly be realised when it is viewed more holistically as a process.
Stop worrying about everything having to go exactly to plan in the classroom, and view any setbacks that may occur as a learning experience for all.
Stop viewing traditional examinations as the only legitimate form of assessment. Learning can be greatly enhanced when a greater range of assessment tools are employed.
Stop thinking of student mental health and wellbeing as only being the responsibility of support services. Everybody has a role to play in looking after the wellbeing of students.
Stop and take time to reflect on the teaching and learning process, and ask for feedback throughout the semester.
Start thinking of opportunities to engage students as co-researchers and co-designers of the curriculum.
Start to involve students in the design of the learning environment, whether this is physical or digital.
Start celebrating the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds that you have in your class and use this to foster a peer-led environment within the classroom.
Start difficult conversations about how education in Ireland can become inclusive of the diversity within the student population, and wider society.
Start to recognize the contribution that you already make to the teaching and learning landscape in Ireland, and how you can build upon that in the future.
Continue to value the contribution that student representatives bring to teaching and learning, and to the wider student experience.
Continue to challenge yourself and others on how you can more meaningfully engage students as partners in education.
Continue to engage with the work of the National Forum, in developing a community of practice across teaching and learning in Ireland.
Continue talking to students and encompassing their feedback within your teaching practice.
Continue to adapt the teaching methods you employ to deliver an engaging and inclusive digital and distance learning experience for students.
Technology Tenses // Maria Freddi
I learned modern languages in the ‘BI’ era, ‘Before the Internet’, when the smartest teachers would come to class bringing a boombox with inbuilt loudspeakers and audio tapes with recordings of radio broadcasts or other sound text, so that we, their students, could get some exposure to authentic spoken language. These teachers would also record from their own satellite TVs, keeping the VHS in the record mode the whole night so that they could bring the video tapes to class the next week. We watched CNN or the BBC in almost real time, appreciated contemporary comedy in ‘Fawlty Towers’ and ‘Saturday Night Live’ despite the time and place lag, and thus filled the language and culture gap.
In the time of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and broadband, I teach English from my laptop to students at their homes all over the country (or are they maybe outside the country?) with an online videoconferencing tool and a standard e-learning platform. This system allows me to design a course that is by definition multimodal, interactive and collaborative, three things education values, as together they promote multi-literacies, learner autonomy and critical thinking. A multi-literacies approach acknowledges that the limitation to using multiple modes of communication is no longer there; all kinds of audio, visual, graphic media input can be incorporated in the language classroom. Similarly, thanks to the internet, learners can choose for themselves from a myriad of language contents, which can underpin learner autonomy and critical thinking. With the chat, the screen sharing and other interactive digital tools, my students can collaborate with their peers and teacher(s), thus participating in the learning process more actively and contributing to creating a real community of learners.
Digital technology can positively impact on education in terms of increased accessibility and sustainable learning, and it can continue to do so. As with any other change, it has brought about opportunities and challenges, but in the future, technology is no longer an option – it is now a method.
Something you liked about the past – the daily encounters with your pals on campus and to sit together during class – might have gone missing, but a new generation of learners has started experiencing international connections from an earlier age; they are members of a global network and can now choose their educational programme from potentially any university around the globe. Competition among HE institutions is high, and quality can make the difference.
As teachers keen to drive this change, what we need is time to rethink our teaching practices, training to use the new available tools, and opportunities to explore the pedagogies behind the tools. The professional and personal reward could be immeasurable.
A Typical Teaching & Learning Day // Frank Coton
Frank Coton is Vice Principal (Academic Planning & Technological Innovation) in University of Glasgow, Scotland. He is the international advisor to the Board of the National Forum.
Image: James McCune Smith building (during construction), University of Glasgow
In Covid times, my dining room is my main place of work as I and my colleagues continue to predominantly work from home. So, after breakfast, my first meeting of the day no longer involves a commute. I miss the change of surroundings, the fresh air, the campus and the social interactions but I don’t miss the horizontal rain or the delays and cancellations to trains.
My contributions to teaching and learning nowadays tend to be focused on leading or contributing to University education-related projects. So, in my first meeting, I’m chairing a board overseeing the design and construction of a new learning and teaching building designed around active learning. The building is named after James McCune Smith, the first African American ever to get a medical degree and I’m so proud Glasgow gave him the opportunity when others wouldn’t. Due to open in summer 2020, construction paused due to Covid and we now expect to open in early 2021. The project board, which includes students, are wonderful and are as committed as ever to delivering the project despite the setbacks and uncertainties of the future.
What happened to the walk between meetings? Now it’s a few clicks and I’m chairing a working group looking at technology for remote teaching. Virtualisation of computing, simulation of laboratories and discussions on how to better support colleagues to transition to remote teaching fill a fairly intense hour.
And, as I click straight into my next meeting, I’m glad I added that extra cushion to my seat. Now I’m catching up with the project team developing a new feedback portal for students. Over the years I’ve learned that success with a project like this is less about software and more about getting the human aspects right. It should be all about engaging and working with the staff and students and I’m heartened that this is exactly what we are talking about here.
Lunch, although brief, is a welcome break from the small screen and a chance to clear my head before more meetings in the afternoon along with an odd break to catch up on emails.
I’m still learning how to adjust to remote working, where every day feels like Groundhog Day, but I’m getting there.
HEIku // Linda Castañeda
thoughts, your words, our hugs
doubts, truths, learning, solitude
NF News // National Forum Team
National Seminar Series is back!
The National Seminar Series gives those working in higher education the opportunity to connect with colleagues and to focus on shared interests in both the research and practice of teaching and learning enhancement. The series also creates opportunities to hear from national and international experts in different areas of teaching and learning.
The full list of 2020/21 seminars is published here.
Professional Development – open courses and webinars
In appreciation of the ongoing need for flexible teaching and learning PD opportunities for staff, the PD open courses on offer for the sector this autumn semester are running fully online for 6 weeks from 2 November, each with a new team of Facilitators.
Click on the links to register your interest in participating in each open course
- PACT (Making a commitment to your PD) self-study and online
- Getting Started with Online Teaching
- Recognition of Prior Learning
Two new open courses will be available to take in self-study mode this semester: Graduate Teaching Assistants and Using Data to Support Student Learning.
As the open courses initiative continues to thrive and build on previous successful delivery, a new exciting partnership model of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) open course has been launched with AHEAD with capacity of up to 1000 participants and dedicated peer group facilitation support.
We also continue to offer webinars in support of our ongoing work. In the work-based assessment event series a session on Work-based Assessment: Key Critical Issues – Going Deeper (Exploring the Challenge of Consistency) will be held on 14 October. This webinar is hosted in partnership with QQI. In addition, the first in a series of national webinars which will take a closer look at key findings from the INDEx Survey will take place on 22 October on the topic of Data Literacy, Privacy and Protection in Higher Education. Further information and registration for this event is available here.
The National Forum recently welcomed two new members to the team, Brian Gormley (seconded from TU Dublin) and Caitriona McGrattan (seconded from Maynooth University). Caitriona and Brian will work closely with the National Forum’s Student Associate Intern and in collaboration with institutions to support the development and implementation of strategies for student success. The student success team are now engaged in recruiting student associates for the Student Associate Assembly which will reinforce the importance of student engagement and partnership as core enablers of student success in Irish higher education. Their immediate work also includes supporting the sector on the best ways to engage with college during COVID19, an example of which is this short, colourful 90 second video, produced in partnership with USI and suitable for sharing on social media or VLEs.
Strategic Alignment of Teaching and Learning Enhancement (SATLE) Funding in Higher Education Reviews
From 22 to 25 September, 129 people from 41 initiative teams across 18 institutions met with international colleagues to explain and discuss their Strategic Alignment of Teaching and Learning Enhancement (SATLE) initiatives. The reviews were designed to be constructive and supportive, providing teams with the opportunity to outline their progress to date, to consider their plans and to discuss any challenges or opportunities they have encountered. From these discussions, teams can use the advice from the expert review panel to maximise the impact of the initiatives. The international review panels were impressed by the quality of the SATLE initiatives and are excited to see how they progress. They specifically highlighted the passion and commitment of SATLE initiative team members. The next set of reviews will take place between 22 and 25 March 2021.
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. You can also follow us in Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.