Welcome to the seventh edition of the National Forum ezine where we present voices, experiences and stories from across the higher education sector. This edition is a special Christmas issue with some additional festive features which we hope you will enjoy. We have also substituted the NF News for a Bumper National Forum Christmas Crossword which you can print out or complete online.
Many thanks to our colleagues from across the sector who contributed to 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 publication.
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National Forum Team
PD Prompts // Margaret Keane
Teaching is like …
a walk along a path with your students.
One of the things that is most enjoyable about teaching is …
the learning that emerges for all along the way through observation of self and others and exploration of a topic as you journey through it together. One refreshing aspect of teaching I love is that every class and student group is different and you are constantly learning and recalibrating as a consequence.
A class has gone well when …
both you and your students are still on the same path you intended having shared the map, agreed the route and explored many avenues along the way appreciating the journey as well as the destination and what is possible beyond.
If I could research one area of students’ learning it would be …
to explore the connectedness of students to the learning journey and learning process of their modules and programmes. To consider how much of the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ they are required to consider in relation to their learning journey.
Writing connects with teaching best when …
it fulfils a purpose but with the flexibility to allow for individuality, creativity and imagination.
The social nature of teaching means …
that deeper, critical, learning can arise from the innate human need for conversation, storytelling and sharing of ideas and experiences. Never has it been more important to recognise the importance and value of the social aspect of learning and teaching and I for one have a greater appreciation of it.
A learning environment ought to be …
a place where every person feels confident and free to offer their ideas and opinion and question or challenge the same of others in a way that leads to respectful development of learning and self.
should be a planned opportunity to check, revisit, learn and re-learn and to demonstrate the best of one’s self. I think assessment works best when students understand the purpose of each piece of assessment and see its value to them, both as a student and in their place in the world.
Using technology feels …
burdensome currently, but with opportunity to acknowledge what works best for my own teaching context and to focus on carrying the best of that through to our new future normal.
Technology for students is …
burdensome currently, but offers an opportunity to enhance their digital skills. I believe it is important to build in ways and reasons for my students to connect with each other between online classes to maintain social connectedness and have an opportunity to discuss their response to learning aloud outside the online classroom.
Teaching matters because …
students need structure and guidance to support them on their own journey through learning and higher education. I’ve always felt it a privilege and a joy to be part of that and the conversations and experiences of people across disciplines and cultures on a daily basis.
If I could change one thing in HE I would …
strengthen the opportunity for those who teach in it to share conversations and experiences of their teaching on a regular basis. While the value of conversations about teaching is recognised, the opportunity to have those conversations sometimes can be limited. Strengthening conversations for staff can have a positive impact ultimately for our students.
Higher education is about …
supporting students in their development of knowledge and skills of discipline, self and the world and in preparation for the journey they choose for themselves.
My Teaching & Learning Space // Jennifer Keenahan
“Collaborative Teaching of Engineering and Architecture Students”
Engineers and Architects require effective communication and interdisciplinary team working to be successful throughout their career which is often overlooked during formal undergraduate education. Historically, the engineer and architect were the same person before the spilt between art and science. In modern times, their relationship can be strained as they each have their own sub-culture and stereotype.
Curiously, the educational system has separated these two professions completely in their formal training – they learn in very different spaces.
There are currently two key initiatives happening in UCD to address this:
- The creation of joint teaching modules for engineers and architects where they will learn together in the same space at the same time and be assessed on their joint projects
- The construction of a new ‘Centre for Creativity’ building that will be a shared home for both the school of engineering and the school of architecture
These represent proactive interventions designed to break down the tribal barriers, expand the spaces and begin to improve the dialogue between Engineers and Architects. With these two initiatives, UCD is addressing the pedagogical space (through joint modules) and the physical space (with the construction of a new building).
The joint module is taught to a diverse group of typically 100 first years every year. In this pedagogical space, students participate in a variety of group tasks and projects. They begin with an ice-breaker activity where students discuss what each profession is typically good at and ideas of how they can work best together. Engineers explain Engineering to the Architects, and likewise Architects explain Architecture to the Engineers. Next, students engage in a role play activity which allows students to explore realistic situations they will encounter in their future careers. Offering these pedagogical spaces is really important for developing students’ teamwork and communication skills. The module also involves other interactive collaborative elements such as making posters, engaging in a table quiz and developing precedence studies. The module culminates in students working in teams to construct a model timber tower to demonstrate stability and how lateral and gravity loads are transferred to ground.
Feedback from students demonstrates that creating these pedagogical spaces has had a very positive effect on their learning experience. To learn more about this work, see our paper published in the European Journal of Engineering Education:
The capital project companion ‘space’ initiative to the joint module is the construction of the new Centre for Creativity Building. The 8,000m² UCD Centre for Creativity Building, once built, will be the new shared space and new home for Civil Engineering and Architecture. It will display prismatic forms inspired by geology and feature an abundant use of natural light coming through two major vertical structures angled at 23 degrees, mirroring the tilt of the earth. These two towers take their design cue from the pentagonal vertical pillar of the university’s iconic dodecahedral 1972 water tower. The design of the new building will encourage creative collaboration and interaction with a “circuit of social connection” allowing students, faculty and visitors to peer into maker and classroom spaces through glass walls. This entrance precinct includes seven new quadrangles of open green space, a new pedestrian spine, parallel to the campus’ original spine, lined with weather canopies that double as solar connectors, forming the infrastructure of an energy network.
The construction of a new shared physical space, and the formation of pedagogical space through the joint delivery of a module for students brings together the professions of engineering and architecture as part of their formal training and provides a strong a foundation for their ongoing recognition and celebration of their complementarity.
Stop, Start, Continue // Chloe Power
There is something about one year ending and another beginning that provides a universal sense of possibility. However you spend the holiday season, whether it’s celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, or simply having a quiet celebration of having made it half way out of the dark, there is no doubt this time of year offers a time for reflection.
For students, it also marks the end of one half of their year and the beginning of the other. This piece is traditionally called stop, start and continue. With that in mind, this piece is directed at those who have studied long and hard this year and who will hopefully now be taking a well-earned break for a few weeks:
Stop: over-thinking the assignments, the exams, the grades you may or may not have gotten. This is a time to unwind, to reflect positively on how much work, effort and time you have put into your studies. The fact of the matter is, no matter how difficult third level education may be, it has been doubly hard this year. This is a time to look back and be proud of what you have achieved from your bedroom, kitchen table, shared accommodation, attic, spare room, the local library, your make-shift desk. It was no easy feat, but here you are.
Start: thinking about how you might reward yourself for this hard work. It has been a difficult year, without mentioning the obvious, and this is a good time to think about how you can start to take a break and look after yourself before beginning a new year and semester. It has been more difficult this year to balance studies with work, hobbies, personal and social lives so perhaps try and take this opportunity to claim back some time for yourself – it has been extremely well earned!
Continue: to strive for the goals you set yourself, continue to achieve things which surprise even yourself but also continue to recognise that you are all dealing with individual experiences. No two students have the same experience. Alongside your studies, which are already impacted by a pandemic, some of you are also dealing with caring responsibilities, being away from family, financial strain, anxiety and mental health, or hidden disabilities. With that in mind, continue to make your voices heard throughout the second part of your academic year; your experiences and what you have to say about them is so important and it needs to be heard. Finally, continue to consider your own circumstances and recognise that you are trying your best, now and throughout the year, which is the most any of us can do.
May the new year bestow health and happiness on you all.
Technology Tenses // Ken McCarthy
Ken McCarthy is Head of Technology-Enhanced Learning (Acting), Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning, Waterford Institute of Technology.
Photo credit Commodore 64 1982 by Jason Ohonowskyj is licensed under: Creative Commons – Attribution-ShareAlike International
In my school and college days technology, as we think of it and when it existed, was probably given the slightly grander title of “computers”. We did have the more mainstream developments of projectors and duplicators, followed by audio and video tapes but it was computer science where we crossed the threshold to imagine what the future might hold. The lowly Commodore 64 and the more cutting-edge Apple II were followed in college by IBM PCs and Apple Macintoshes and the application suites and programming languages of the day. What we did and even why we did it I have no idea, but it seemed futuristic enough that I wanted to be part of it.
Writing about a present, shaped as it has been over the past nine months by a pandemic, seems much changed from what it might have been just a year ago. Zoom has become a verb and daily we witness hundreds of classes attended by thousands of students facilitated on the platform. Each week seems to bring with it a new surprise and new clever twists on the application of the technology. Mobile devices and mobile broadband have changed how content is consumed and the ability to create high quality video using normal tools have put content creation within reach of everyone. Always on, always connected, and always available, provided of course that you are on the right side of the digital divide.
The future would have been a lot easier to imagine a year ago as I could have just predicted ‘now’. But if there was a hope that I had for the future it is that technology becomes invisible, that the digital divide I mentioned above doesn’t exist and the technologies that we use each and every day now, like video platforms, VLEs and the rest of the digital toolkit, fade into the background. It isn’t that I hope that they become less important but more that they just exist in the same way as utilities, like electricity, or infrastructure like buildings, desks, chairs and whiteboards. I hope that we move away from the deficit language about online learning and making unnecessary comparisons with on-campus learning and that we embrace the endless potential for blended, online and digital.
A Typical Teaching & Learning Day // Tom Doyle
Tweaking, Performing and Doodling!
My day starts at 7 am and I head downstairs to be greeted by Piper who is a trainee Guide Dog and boarding with us while she completes her training in the Irish Guide Dogs Centre. I then make a cup of tea and put on the porridge for our boys before sitting down to breakfast and checking and responding to any urgent emails. After 8 am, I drop Piper into training school on my way to my office at University College Cork.
During a typical teaching day, I lecture from 10-12 in the morning. Before the lecture starts, I’m always busy going over the lecture material and of course doing some last minute updates. Sometimes this means preparing new slides and content at least a day or two before. There are always tweaks to be made. Then there’s the performance! Lecturing is as much about the delivery as it is about the content. I consider that my primary role as lecturer is to inspire the students to be interested in the subjects that I teach. That takes a lot of craft, storytelling and building a yarn or two into my content to make it more personal and memorable. But it also requires a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm… it is a performance, so once a lecture is finished I wind down with a cup of tea. During this time I try to reflect on the lecture content I have delivered. In particular, I make notes on where I need a new slide or two to improve the content. I rarely make these changes there and then but make notes so that when I open these PowerPoint slides again I can see where I left off and what needs to be done.
The afternoon always begins with administrative duties and catching up on emails. Once that is out of the way, I move on to preparing the next teaching task which is either another two-hour lecture block or a practical class to support the lecture content. If it’s a practical class, I meet with the technical staff to help set up the laboratory for the practical. This takes a lot of preparation as we may have 30-50 zoological specimens for each practical that need to be taken out of the museum and arranged in a specific order to reflect the practical layout and learning outcomes. I often need to prepare new support material for these practicals as some new findings or changes in the lecture content need to be reflected in the practicals and the assessment.
Of course any typical day is punctuated with staff meetings, grant deadlines and research meetings with my team and undergraduates who are doing independent research projects with me. At University College Cork there is a real focus on research-based teaching so we actively engage students in enquiry and research from early on. Research meetings discuss everything from field sampling, lab work, data analysis and advice on scientific writing. But fundamentally, these meetings are about ‘asking questions’, so we often end up doodling and scribbling on a large white board to figure out the processes at play. As the day is racing to an end, I leave the students to their questions and doodles, and get back to my desk to reply to more emails and address any urgent matters before the day ends. With some luck I’ve time for a quick chat with some colleagues before I hit the road to collect my boys from their Afterschool Club.
Writing this reflective piece reminds me of what I miss about my ‘normal teaching day’ during these Covid times; the engagement with students in classrooms, the student ‘buzz’ around the buildings, random conversations with students in the corridors and of course the comradery with my colleagues and research team. Hopefully, within the next year, we can get back to these typical days of teaching and learning.
HEIku // Anne Marie O’Brien
What is the story
“morning Glory” can it be
Team Based learning, Yeah!
‘All I want for Christmas’ by the Student Associate Assembly
We asked members of our Student Associate Assembly to finish the prompt ‘All I want for Christmas is …’ Here are their Christmas wishes.
All I want for Christmas is
…for COVID19 to be resolved and the passion for teaching/learning to return
… for every person living in direct provision to get what they want and need
… to make a difference and to really be a part in something great, and to see people in person again! 🙂
… to be able to celebrate safely with all of my friends and family
… to spend some quality time with my family
… inclusion of students with disabilities in Higher Education
… peace of mind and prosperity for 2021
… a puppy
… to spend time with family and friends
… to get a full time job
… friends and family to be happy and healthy!
… to be able to spend it with loved ones close!
… a smooth transition going from IT Tralee into MTU in the New Year!
… for life to get back to normal 🙂
… pay for student nurses and equal educational opportunities for DP residents!
The National Forum Student Associate Assembly.
Digital Storytime by Jenny O’Connor
In Jenny O’Connor’s digital story ‘The Naked Lady’ Jenny reflects on the experience of teaching in 2020.
Dr Jenny O’Connor is a lecturer in English and Communications in the School of Humanities at Waterford Institute of Technology.
‘Twas the night before Christmas by the Teaching Enhancement Unit colleagues (DCU)
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the land
Lecturers were delighted no more Zooms were planned
No more ‘you’re on mute’ or ‘oh, can I be heard?’,
Just some rest from ol’ Santa upon us conferred.
When Covid came to our doors, we soon shut up shop
But teaching and learning for us did not stop
With our laptops and headsets we rallied the troops
Doing our best to make sure we weren’t all in the soup
Staff development was provided to all who came calling
Resources a plenty, much sharing and trawling
Our kids and our pets fairly bloomed as Zoom stars
We saw screens of strange places but alas no open bars!
Teams came together from all walks of life
Regardless of sector, to help through the strife
We shared our resources, advice, expertise
All collaboration was welcomed with a grateful “yes please”
Webinars and clinics were all in the mix
A selection of offerings and staff made their picks
Some learned about video, while others Moodle and Zoom
By the end of semester their heads had no more room
Pivot!, Pivot! was heard but not from Ross in Friends
The workshops and webinars helped us work out the blends
And how well we’ve done, a pat on the back is due,
We’ve learned h5p and ABC to name but a few
Academic integrity was order of the day
With innovative assessment, we kept cheating at bay
And exciting initiatives kept the conversation going
Partnering students with much to-ing and fro-ing
The teaching awards was a virtual affair
With team members involved with their usual flair
The winners were announced which at once set the tone
With the first of the winners TEU’s Suzanne Stone
T&L Day was next to make the move online
The entire event got a complete redesign
A day became a week in a quick classroom flip
Promoting good examples of T&L scholarship
No-one wanted our campuses to be empty and bare
But safety was our driver and pedagogy of care
We have missed our students, our campus, and peers,
But next year will be better for sure’s what we hear
There is one thing we’re certain, one absolute fact
Even long after the vaccine, we’ll still see the impact
We all moved on line when few thought we could
When normality returns, continue we should
It’s all about balance and getting it right
Helping our students but not staying up all night
Mixing online with some face to face
The best of on campus and in their own place
But it’s time for a rest for all at DCU
A break from breakouts, precious time to renew.
In the last year our learning curves were so steep
But now it’s time to switch off for some well-deserved sleep
Abandon all work, relax, it’s your right
Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!
The Teaching Enhancement Unit is DCU’s centre for Teaching and Learning.
Bumper National Forum Christmas Crossword
- Click here to complete the Bumper National Forum Christmas Crossword online
- Click here to download a printable copy.
- Click here to view the solution.
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