Welcome to the eighth edition of the National Forum ezine where we present voices, experiences and stories from across the higher education sector. The theme of this edition is the National Forum’s Professional Development Open Courses and all our contributors have developed Open Courses with digital badges for the sector. Many thanks to these colleagues for their contributions to the ezine and the Open Course PD suite.
The NF News in this edition has been substituted with a special feature entitled ‘Higher education – looking forward’ in which we begin to imagine teaching and learning post Covid.
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.
National Forum Team
PD Prompts // Cicely Roche
Teaching is like …
providing seedlings with well cultivated soil, and access to the ‘universe’.
One of the things that is most enjoyable about teaching is …
the energy of well-informed debate (and disagreement with my perspective!) that expands the range of options considered when faced with ambiguity and/or dilemma scenarios.
A class has gone well when …
I’ve to immediately protect some time to capture ‘aha’ moments derived from insightful discussion and debate … and, if it’s gone really well, I’m ‘buzzing’!
If I could research one area of students’ learning it would be …
how to evidence optimal teaching activities in individual sessions in a manner that supports long-term student development yet meets reviewer expectations regarding evidence of impact.
Writing connects with teaching best when …
it links the scholarship of teaching evidence base with practitioners’ (teachers’) experience.
The social nature of teaching means …
that the ‘hook’ that drew me to engagement with the National Forum was Terry Maguire’s evangelical promotion of the triads concept as a core element in the Open Course rollout, and a curiosity as to how triad use might be optimised to create a social, peer learning framework for the course. Bearing in mind that this pilot ran February-April 2020, during the COVID-pivot!
A learning environment ought to be …
nurturing enough to blast any imposter syndrome lurking amongst participants, challenging enough to expand participants’ perspectives in every session and ambitious/courageous enough to be student-led and adapt to the unexpected.
must have a ‘programme’ focus to claim to be student-centred or outcomes-focussed. It’s people we are nurturing, through the ‘ebbs and flow’ of their development.
Using technology feels …
conflicted by the duality of it being a barrier between me and ‘them’, yet recognising that it can be an enabler to nudge further development in a manner I cannot necessarily achieve without it.
Technology for students is …
at its best, an ‘open’ window to their future … but the teacher must nudge students to recognise that depending on how they use technology. it also has the potential to curtail the range of perspectives they consider and/or propagate bias.
Teaching matters to me because …
it is one small way I (believe I) can help the next generation of leaders prepare and expand their potential to ‘make a difference’.
If I could change one thing in higher education I would …
expand the discussion about Programme Focussed Assessment, get rid of the focus on ‘marks’ wherever possible and focus on what higher education can help people become. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, real-world demonstration of achievement of learning outcomes, and ‘evaluation’ of how people are likely to be able to reason through the vast amount of ‘data’ available online to make ethically defensible decisions in an increasingly complex world.
Higher education is about …
Roots and Wings (Goethe): There are two things [teachers] should give their [students] roots and wings. Roots to give them bearing and a sense of belonging, but also wings to help free them from constraints and prejudices and give them other ways to travel (or rather, to fly).
My Teaching & Learning Space // Jennifer McMahon
One of the impacts of Covid-19 was to transform pedagogical spaces in an extremely short space of time. Over the last year, students and teachers in higher education have been challenged to rethink module design and delivery and to adapt their teaching and learning strategies.
When the closure of universities was announced I was mid-way through teaching an inclusive education module for student teachers enrolled in Bachelor of Education programmes at University of Limerick (UL). The module, of approximately 270 students, was designed to equip students with the knowledge, attitudes and skills to support learners with additional needs. One aspect of the module was to collaborate interprofessionally, with students from the MSc. in Speech and Language Therapy (taught by Michelle O’ Donoghue) to develop individual education plans (IEPs) for six case learners. Originally designed as a two hour, in-person class activity, we were confronted with how to maintain the integrity of the learning outcomes of the activity, whilst addressing the challenges of conducting it during pandemic restrictions.
Fortunately, the student teachers were members of a platform called the Teachers Research Exchange (T-REX). T-REX is an online platform that connects teachers, student teachers and education professionals, founded by myself and colleagues from Mary Immaculate College, National University of Galway (NUIG) and Marino Institute of Education (MIE) and funded by a range of education stakeholders. The platform is designed to support conversations and activities related to evidence based practice and research. It provided an opportunity for UL students (from Education and Speech and Language Therapy) to connect with each other virtually and discuss the case studies. To facilitate the link between disciplines, we created subgroups on the platform comprising at least five student teachers and one Speech and Language Therapy student. In text format, the student teachers engaged with the Speech and Language students to consider evidence based strategies of intervention and develop IEPs for each case study. Students, from each discipline, posed prepared questions and provided responses over a period of a week. Although we experienced some teething difficulties (such as students accessing the site and some technical issues) overall, the students felt that the use of the virtual space enabled them to understand the practice of interprofessional learning and to experience interprofessional working. Positively, students noted it was a flexible learning opportunity that supported reflection and enhanced professional identity.
Capitalising on the opportunities that the T-REX virtual space can offer, we are in the process of creating a series of Open Courses with digital badges to support teachers’ continuous professional development in evidence based practice. Our first Open Course with digital badge focuses on harnessing research to promote teacher and learner wellbeing. It will be available in Autumn 2021.
Hopefully next year we can resume in person teaching but greater use of technology is here to stay. The T-REX platform unlocks new strategies and means of achieving learning goals, which has the potential to change and enhance the teaching and learning space now and in the future.
Jennifer McMahon is a lecturer in Psychology in the University of Limerick.
Stop, Start, Continue // Ruth Ní Bheoláin
AHEAD Ireland teamed up with ‘UCD for ALL’ in 2020 to facilitate a sector-wide rollout of the National Forum’s Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Open Course with digital badge. I was one of almost 800 educators who participated in this iteration of the UDL course, supported by 20 facilitators across the further and higher education sectors.
Here are some of my key reflections.
Stop thinking about the learning experience as applying to the schema of the ‘typical’ student that no longer exists and stop thinking of inclusivity as something that is added on to the learning environment. One of the learnings I took away from this experience was that UDL provides an effective lens through which to view, and to enhance, the experience of all learners in an increasingly diverse Further and Higher Education environment while ensuring any additional learning needs are also accommodated.
Start thinking about UDL as something that can be applied in all aspects of education provision. I was first introduced to UDL in the context of curriculum development and the immediate teaching environment. I was eager to learn how to apply these principles within my role in quality assurance. I may not have a frontline teaching position, but I do play a part in supporting the lifecycle of programme provision through the implementation of the Hibernia College Quality Framework. The reflective and redesign activities in the UDL course gave me the opportunity to critically assess my own practice and see where I was implementing good UDL practice already, and where I should focus future enhancements.
Continue to develop and contribute to the expansive, knowledgeable and hugely generous UDL community by sharing our journeys and experiences. Build individual experience, and advocate for building this experience among our peers, by following Tobin and Behling’s advice of adding one more option for engagement, comprehension and communication for each activity you are seeking to enhance. These individual and shared experiences allow small changes to build and accumulate towards larger collective efforts over time.
Huge thank you to Dara Ryder, Trevor Boland and Lisa Padden for centrally facilitating such an engaging and rewarding learning experience. I would encourage any Further Education or Higher Education professional to engage in the UDL course.
Tobin, Thomas J., and Kirsten T. Behling. Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2018. muse.jhu.edu/book/62887.
Technology Tenses // Dara Cassidy, Gearoid O’Suilleabhain and Angelica Risquez
In 2017, we partnered with the National Forum to develop a digital badged online course: “Getting Started with Online Teaching” (GSOT). The National Forum was ahead of the international curve in developing both a national Continuing Professional Development (CPD) framework which underpinned the digital badges and funding what has now become an extensive series of badged CPD open courses. To this time open badges were not really that well-known outside of the ed-tech field and their use was largely limited to recognition of co-curricular and extra-curricular student achievement, so this initiative from the Forum really represented a new departure and a new concept for the sector. To support attainment of the GSOT badge, project partners designed a fully online course with weekly Zoom webinars to give participants the experience of being a student in an online course as they sought to consolidate their knowledge of online pedagogy and develop practical content curation and development skills. This too was not the norm for professional development courses in HE, which at the time tended towards on-site workshops or standalone, self-paced e-learning courses with, in the ed-tech or online teaching discipline at least, a tendency towards more technical or technicist syllabi.
Little did we know that three years later, the Covid-19 pandemic would catapult online teaching into the mainstream almost overnight. The GSOT course’s time had come and it is now being offered as mainstream CPD across several Irish HEIs. During our initial course delivery, we collected data that later formed the basis of an article focused on the use of digital badges to support a partnership approach to faculty development, published in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology*. In fact, digital badges are now just one type of a range of new microcredential offerings that are increasingly opening new pathways for learners at all levels to earn qualifications.
The convergence of the flexibility offered by the use of digital delivery platforms and the emerging multiplicity of accreditation routes, represented by microcredentials, for instance, will make lifelong learning easier to achieve and certify than ever before. This can be supported by the development of new blockchain-type solutions to the management of academic credentials, enabling even greater portability and transparency, affording learners greater control and empowering them to set their own course as they navigate the future.
* National Forum staff also published in this journal on a related topic: ‘Establishing and sustaining national partnerships in professional development and the recognition of open courses in teaching and learning through digital badges’.
A Typical Open Course Day // Eileen O’Leary, Marese Bermingham, Catherine Murphy, Linda O’Sullivan and John O’ Doherty
‘You don’t have to be great to start but you do have to start to be great.’ Zig Ziglar
Preparing an Open Course for the National Forum series is both a privilege and a challenge. We are all students, we are all learning, we are all human, we all worry … some just hide it better! The worries on an Open Course day are the same as when you begin teaching a new class or dare we say, begin teaching for the first time. Is there enough detail, who will be in my class, what do they know already, what if they know more than me, what if they make reference to something I have not seen? Is it good enough, is it pitched at the right level, is there too much content, have we included enough room and time for discussion, have we created opportunities for engagement, have we considered how we will encourage engagement, is our content relevant, is it structured and easy to follow, is it applicable to different types of learners? Not to mention our most recent fears, will the technology work, will I look like a technophobe, will I appear inadequate, are they actually present? I cannot see them to read the body language; how will I know they understand, that they are engaged. May I ask them to turn on their cameras? May I select a student to answer my question? Will I scare them away by asking questions? All normal questions when you care about your teaching and what the students are learning.
In this case, however, we take reassurance from the fact that participants on the programme will be bringing their own teaching and learning experiences so far, discipline expertise and motivations to the programme. This gives us a very important and rich starting place. We will experiment and explore, reflect and work with participants throughout, uncovering and building on what they know already. This open and exploratory approach we hope de-risks change and builds trust and a sense of belonging, an eagerness to experiment while feeling supported and challenged in equal proportions. If we always know the result, then there is no point in the experiment 😊. Information is great, but information is not always knowledge even though the two words are often used interchangeably; information + experience = knowledge.
As we roll out the National Forum Open Course, Enhancing Teaching through Interactive Classes that Engage Students, the EnTICE Digital Badge, we expect to facilitate learning, think about teaching, encourage enhancement of teaching and learning, try out some strategies/approaches, develop connections, encourage sharing and collaboration and to enjoy the learning journey. What we are most looking forward to is the opportunity to access information, independently, and collectively, and very importantly to share experiences so as to develop knowledge and skills together. Step one is getting started and we welcome you all to join us.
Eileen O’Leary, Marese Bermingham, Catherine Murphy, Linda O’Sullivan and John O’ Doherty are members of the Teaching and Learning Unit in Munster Technological University. They are the development team and the first facilitators of the Enhancing Teaching through Interactive Classes that Engage Students (EnTICE) Open Course.
HEIku // Marie O’Neill
Professional growth achieved
Marie O’Neill is a Head of Enhancement, CCT College, Dublin. Marie O’Neill collaborated with Ken McCarthy (WIT) in facilitating the Getting Started with Professional Development – PACT Open Course.
Higher Education – looking forward // Catherine Cronin
We cannot return to the world as it was before. (UNESCO, 2020)
One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to deal with its impact. While all in Irish society have been affected by successive lockdowns, many have dealt with the most grievous consequences: bereavement, illness, isolation, economic hardship. The toll on individual and collective mental health is impossible to calculate. In the context of such challenges, the importance of education in the lives of learners at all levels, as well as for families and for society, is widely acknowledged.
Within higher education, a sector-wide move to emergency online teaching and learning was accomplished in March 2020 in a matter of days: every teacher became an online teacher, and every student became a distance learner (Bayne et al., 2020). Staff across institutions found new ways to teach, communicate, collaborate, assess, provide feedback and support, administrate, manage, and solve urgent, complex problems. Similarly, students found new ways to access and participate in their courses, communicate with their lecturers, collaborate and support one another, balance all elements in their lives, and continue their studies wherever possible. Barriers were overcome; and while many benefited from increased flexibility and access, the digital divide and numerous other forms of inequality were exposed and exacerbated.
Today, at a time when staff and students are dealing with the personal and family toll of the pandemic, heavy workloads and digital fatigue, it is understandable that many long to return to campus. The future hopefully includes abundant opportunities for being together in-person, including as part of learning and teaching. Nevertheless, flexibility, adaptability and resilience will continue to be important features of education at all levels. Our education systems will require the ability to respond as effectively and equitably as possible to future unforeseen disruptions.
Flexible and resilient educational systems require more than tools. They demand collaboration, care, preparation, expertise, resources and learning lessons from the past. (Houlden & Veletsianos, 2020)
A key task as we look to the future in Irish higher education is making sense of all that we have learned over the past year in the context of what we already know about effective education in all modes – in person, online and blended. As described by Deirdre Butler (2020), we must combine what we learned before COVID and during COVID (BC and DC) as we plan for the future of education after COVID (AC). In other words:
What can we bring forward to enhance teaching and learning for the future, for all, and how can we do this collaboratively, with care, and building on evidence?
We have a wealth of evidence from which to draw. Student experiences of teaching and learning during COVID have been documented internationally, nationally and within institutions. The National Report on Students and COVID-19, for example, highlighted the importance to students of access, structure, communication and support (USI, 2020). Other studies have noted that students appreciate the flexibility of recorded lectures but also value regular interactions with their lecturers (Curtin, 2020). A key theme across studies is the need to acknowledge that students’ experiences are diverse, and so are the range of barriers to learning.
Staff experiences and reflections also have been documented. A National Forum report (2020) drawing on insights from across the sector noted that teaching and learning staff had become “the frontline workers of higher education”. The importance of teaching and learning units and departmental leaders, and of teaching and learning itself, has perhaps never been more evident. The affordances of different modes of teaching, different pedagogies and different assessment practices – and their value for student learning – are now better and more widely understood. Experiences during the pandemic have also led to the recognition that time invested in (digital) teaching and learning structures, processes, policies, resources and professional development have helped institutions and the sector to respond effectively and will be vital to building resilience and success for the future (National Forum, 2020; European Commission, 2020).
In addition to what has been learned during the course of 2020, the substantial research literature in digital education, e-learning, online and distance learning (ODL), massive open online courses (MOOCs), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and open education offer relevant theories and practices that can be productively applied as we plan for the future. Especially relevant areas of research include: the importance of learning design; the relative affordances and benefits of synchronous and asynchronous learning; the importance of interactivity and community building in online learning; the value of critical, creative and caring digital pedagogies; and the value of authentic, agentic, multimodal forms of assessment, among others.
As has been dramatically highlighted during the past year, we do not teach and learn in a vacuum. Our work as educators must acknowledge and address the wider challenges of society as we embrace a vision for learning that “honours the humanity and contribution of every learner” (DeRosa, 2020). So, what next? Although it is impossible to assess the full meaning of all that has happened during the past year, we know that the future will not be defined as a choice or a battle between in-person, online and blended learning, but rather about identifying the conditions and contexts within which each mode works best. Working together to design teaching, learning and assessment collaboratively, with care, and building on evidence, we can ensure that higher education will be as flexible, resilient and equitable as possible, honouring the humanity and contributions of all who learn, all who teach, all who support and lead, and our wider communities.
Bayne, S. et al. (2020). Manifesto for Teaching Online. Cambridge: MIT Press. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/manifesto-teaching-online
Butler, D. (2020). Designing sustainable digital transformation of learning: BC/AC. Third European Education Summit. https://www.beyond-events.eu/index.php?eventid=54&roomid=148
Curtin, E. (2020). Student Feedback on Online Learning. University College Cork Students’ Union. https://www.uccsu.ie/uccsu-student-feedback-on-online-learning-report-published/
DeRosa, R. (2020). Foreword. In: Clifton, A., & Hoffman, K.D. (Eds.) Open Pedagogy Approaches. https://milnepublishing.geneseo.edu/openpedagogyapproaches/ (CC BY 4.0)
European Commission (2020). Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027: Resetting education and training for the digital age. https://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/digital-education-action-plan_en
Houlden, S., & Veletsianos, G. (2020, March 13). COVID-19 pushes universities to switch to online classes—but are they ready? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/covid-19-pushes-universities-to-switch-to-online-classes-but-are-they-ready-132728
National Forum. (2020). Reflecting and learning: The move to remote/online teaching and learning in Irish higher education. https://www.teachingandlearning.ie/publication/reflecting-and-learning-the-move-to-remote-online-teaching-and-learning-in-irish-higher-education/
UNESCO International Commission on the Futures of Education. (2020). Education in a post-COVID world: Nine ideas for public action. Paris, UNESCO. https://en.unesco.org/news/education-post-covid-world-nine-ideas-public-action
Union of Students in Ireland. (2020). National Report on Students and COVID-19. https://usi.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/COVID_RESEARCH_FINAL.pdf