Welcome to the ninth 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 ‘Networks and Discipline Groups’ and all our contributors have a key role in the network and groups of which they are members. Many thanks to these colleagues for their contributions to the ezine and to the sector more broadly.
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 // Maja Haals Brosnan
Teaching is like …
sustained shared moments of curiosity and exploration.
One of the things that is most enjoyable about teaching is … when students realise they have the skills and knowledge to change and make an impact on something they care about.
A class has gone well when … the moment of curiosity and exploration is genuinely shared and extends beyond the duration and walls of the class.
If I could research one area of students’ learning it would be … how their vision and image of themselves as persons, and as students and future professionals, influences their personal and professional engagement with learning opportunities.
The social nature of teaching means … the sense of belonging and connectedness, deeper understanding, that students thrive on when they feel recognised, acknowledged, validated. Students need to explore their own identity and positionality to appreciate their embeddedness in the social fabrics of higher education institutes.
A learning environment ought to be … a virtual or physical place or space where people in all their wonderful differences spark with curiosity and wonder and enthuse in learning about and formulating new ideas, thoughts and insights, and where they are helped along the path of such discoveries.
Assessment … is a structured and prepared opportunity to engage deeper with learning and have one’s understanding, thoughts and knowledge acknowledged, grounded and revisited, interrogated with respect and opportunity for further learning.
Using technology feels … liberating and constraining all at once. Liberating when normally quiet students shine, when technology allows for rarely heard voices. Constraining when inhibiting rich relationships and deeper shared moments of exploration.
Technology for students is … a new opportunity to shine and engage, a wall to hide behind or a new skill to be acquired and explored, tested to its boundaries.
Teaching matters because … the most meaningful learning happens through guided thinking and conversations in shared moments of exploration. Students need to feel embedded within and grounded in a network of strong relationships that support their personal and professional journey of discovery and reflection. Students need to feel safe in an environment where mistakes can be nourished as learning opportunities and critical self reflection can be supported respectfully.
If I could change one thing in HE I would … place greater focus on developing the teaching skills of those who teach by developing a culture of collaborative learning for tutors and lecturers to strengthen individual and team teaching rather than simply celebrating those who are naturally good.
Higher education is about … giving all students opportunities to explore and engage with skills, knowledge, perspectives and insights that can begin for them a journey to something that feels big and impactful to achieve.
Maja Haals Brosnan is a senior lecturer in Early Childhood Education in Marino Institute of Education. She is Chair of the Early Childhood Research Special Interest Group under the Children’s Research Network- Early Childhood Education and Care.
My Teaching & Learning Space // Isabelle Courtney and Mary Buckley
When Great Minds Think Alike, New T&L Spaces Begin
Many librarians were among the 1,500+ participants in the National Forum’s Open Courses and it was a chance discussion between two of these librarians during the PACT Commitment to PD course in late 2020 that led to the concept of the L2L PACT Joint Digital Badge.
Librarians make excellent multitaskers: under a rather large umbrella of duties spanning support for students in finding information for assignments, to helping faculty and staff find information and materials to help teach classes and complete research, librarians also teach information literacy skills.
However, when it comes to the matter of teaching and learning, two questions librarians often ask themselves are: How are we perceived by both faculty and students – are we teachers or trainers? And how comfortable are we placing ourselves as teachers alongside our academic colleagues? The key difference between faculty and librarian teaching roles is the ad hoc nature of library instruction. Classes are often requested on demand and not timetabled or cannot be accommodated by information literacy librarians. This is often where many librarians are required to teach a class but without formal training or a chance to plan.
Although little research on the subject has been conducted in an Irish context, a 2015 study in the UK looked at academic librarians’ perception of their own teaching roles. The main themes arising from that study found that some librarians felt less confident about their teaching and less willing to acknowledge that they were teachers. However, by attending more teaching related CPD events, librarians felt more informed about good teaching practice and more confident to speak with authority on the subject (Wheeler and McKinney, 2015).
While considering these questions and challenges through the lens of the National Forum’s PD Framework, an idea came to mind: what if we designed a librarian specific PACT course that encompassed both the National Forum’s PD Framework and one of the librarian specific CPD frameworks? Recognising that librarian roles, not just in the education sector, but in general, increasingly include teaching responsibilities, we felt that there was a need for a specific course which focused on pedagogy from a librarian’s perspective.
Building on the knowledge, expertise and shared wisdom within our networks, an adapted version of the PACT Open Course was successfully pitched to the National Forum and the LAI and a team of seven skilled librarians, four of whom are PACT facilitators, put their heads together and designed the PACT commitment to PD L2L Joint Digital Badge. In fact, this proposed initiative aligned with, and built upon a previous collaboration between the National Forum and librarians from Dundalk Institute of Technology. The L2L project saw library staff across three institutions come together to explore and reflect upon their professional development using the National Forum’s PD Framework.
This new teaching and learning space will be fully online and uniquely librarian-centric. A virtual learning space offers participants flexibility and is particularly well suited to those with complicated schedules and responsibilities. It will give librarians from across the country an opportunity to share solutions to common challenges without having to leave their desks. This online space will include regular breakout rooms and discussion boards which are designed to build a community of practice for librarians who teach or those who wish to pursue teaching roles.
By reflecting on their current practice and pedological development, it is hoped that there will be increased confidence in teaching skills, and an opportunity for improved library/faculty collaboration, thus further contributing to student success.
The pilot course will begins on 4 October and run until 8 November 2021. A facilitator course will run from 15 to 26 November 2021.
Wheeler, Emily & McKinney, Pamela. (2015). Are librarians teachers? Investigating academic librarians’ perceptions of their own teaching roles. Journal of Information Literacy. https://doi.org/10.11645/9.2.1985
Isabelle Courtney is a librarian and lecturer in Records Management and Information Law at Dublin Business School. She is a member of the LAI Career Development Group and Project Leader on the L2L Digital Badge initiative with the National Forum.
Stop, Start, Continue // Sai Gujulla
Sai shares some insights and top tips for staff when considering students in their classrooms.
- Stop thinking that group work, listening to music or making flashcards are just ways that distract students. Studying can be in a variety of forms whether it might be discussing it with your friends, reading the text out loud or learning while listening to your favourite music.
- Stop making it seem that achieving good grades in exams is everything. Success can come in many forms, and it doesn’t have to be only through exams.
- Stop having two or three assignments due on the same day; this pressurises students and it also results in unsatisfactory work.
- Stop believing that feedback or comments from students are unnecessary. Feedback is the voice of students and it is one of the most efficient ways to find out how they are feeling.
- Stop putting emphasis on a particular deadline as students might be under pressure to complete the assignment or they might be facing issues beyond their control e.g. with the internet.
- Start engaging with students by asking them questions and making them feel included in class.
- Start making connections between real life and your module content, making it easier for students to understand.
- Start experimenting with different teaching techniques until you find the best ones for your class.
- Start talking to students on a regular basis to see if they are doing okay, as asking for help is something not all students can do.
- Start giving students an insight into the opportunities that life holds for them, and that exams are not everything.
- Continue regular communication with students – it is important for you and your students to stay in touch regarding classes.
- Continue to take breaks between classes as it is vital to maintain a balance between work and life – this is important for both staff and students.
- Continue taking regular feedback from students to find out how they are doing and if they require any help.
- Continue interacting with students in class to make them feel at ease.
- Continue to encourage flexible timetables to provide both students and the staff time to get ready for the next class.
Sai Gujulla is a third year College of Science and Engineering student in NUI Galway and volunteers as a College Convenor lending his voice within the Students’ Union on important issues affecting a diverse student body. Sai has also volunteered with various campus initiatives that support and engage students.
Technology Tenses // Louisa Goss
I can easily recall the daily use of overhead projectors (OHP) in the early years of my teaching practice when teaching resources used in lectures largely took the form of visual and textual material photocopied onto acetate sheets. Aside from sourcing acetate sheets that were designed for laser printers and adjusting the OHP lens for a clearer reading of content, the noted limitations of this teaching tool at that time were practical ones. So, when the shift to PowerPoint occurred sometime later it seemed almost transformative in terms of its capability to export high resolution images and embed video content, as well as link out to other relevant learning resources to create what might have been considered back then as ‘engaging’ presentations. Interestingly, the most successful learning of that period largely took place in open plan spaces designated for practical classes in which I adopted participatory approaches to learning using analogue methods.
Fast-forward to the higher education (HE) landscape of 2020/21, characterised as it has been by a rapid and disruptive shift to remote teaching and learning.
Pivoting to online learning and remote teaching within such a short timeframe has been a significant learning curve for everyone involved, staff and students alike. Nevertheless, the rapidly accelerated change has afforded greater levels of experimentation and innovation in approaches to delivery of higher education.
My experience of technology in this educational space since the onset of the pandemic has been nothing short of ‘immersive’ in the sense that, like other educators, my teaching practice has been fully lived in the virtual classroom. For me, the experience has brought new and interesting ways of working with digital technologies and a vast array of opportunities to connect with others around the world as part of my professional development that hitherto would not have been possible. It’s inevitable that these developments in online education will be built upon going forward.
The scaled up use of technology to unimaginable heights and proliferation of digital tools across all areas of HE as a result of working largely full-time in a digital world during the pandemic has guaranteed more widespread usage of technology post Covid-19.
With greater diversity in the delivery of HE, digital technologies will have a central role to play in the continued expansion of the system, lowering carbon footprint, and in a model for sustainable funding of the sector by way of flexible learning pathways for example, micro-credential offerings.
Hybrid models of learning are proving to be efficient routes for leveraging educational technologies to support not only greater inclusion in HE but pedagogical innovation too. Even where in-person teaching returns to similar levels that existed pre-Covid, a blend of digital methods and tools with face-to-face (F2F) interactive teaching strategies will likely become the norm.
Louisa Goss is a Lecturer in Social Care in the School of Business and Humanities at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT). She is currently Chair of the Creativity and Innovation in Social Care (CISC) network.
A Typical Day // Lawrence Cleary
The Impossibility of Eavesdropping: A Day in the Life of the University of Limerick’s Regional Writing Centre
In the Regional Writing Centre at UL (RWCUL), I used to confide in the undergraduate Administrative Assistant that you could always tell a good peer writing tutor because, in a one-to-one session, the student seeking help does most of the talking.
Lately, I’ve been cycling into the RWCUL for the first half of each day, partly to lose some of my Covid-fat and partly because…, to be honest, I long for the noise. The writing centre before Covid, with three peer writing tutors working away in our tutoring space and our front-of-house administrator fielding questions at the door, was a strange kind of jarring euphony, like a crowded canteen or pub: laughing, back-slapping, praising, stressing, laughing, questioning, instructing, demonstrating, laughing, talking, talking, talking, roaring!
It’s not the same online. For one thing, there’s no noise, no laughter, no talk. My office, today, whether at home or on campus, is quiet, only the sound of maintenance crews drilling holes in walls or floors above or trimming hedges that section off the campus below, only the sound of wasps coming up through the windows or the heavy breathing of my dog at my feet when at home. Traffic rolling by. Neighbours over waist-high walls catching up.
We don’t drop into offices or chat in corridors anymore. Now, we accept Teams meetings, click on links, join now if we want to talk to someone or admit someone from the lobby if someone wants to talk to us. It’s nice to see faces. To say hello.
Students seem to be preferring our writing centre’s asynchronous Quick Query tool, a link that allows students to submit a question that will not take a tutor more than fifteen minutes to answer. We promise to answer within 48 hours. Questions such as ‘How do I write a PhD thesis?’ are answered with an invitation to book an appointment with a peer writing tutor. But one-to-one peer tutoring appointments have fallen off; synchronicity is out, it seems. Faceless icons talking or engaging in chat.
What does North say about evaluating the quality of a tutoring session in the writing centre? The success of a tutor is revealed by “the amount of writer talk they prompt; the level of engagement with the writing task that they promote; the ability they develop in a tutee to articulate a new strategy” (North 1982, p. 438). How do we measure a good tutoring session now if I can’t listen in from my office, listen in through the noise?
Today, I can get a sense of tutor engagement and quality through careful reading of their session report forms, which outline what the tutor did and explicitly state the learning addressed in the session and how the student will exercise that learning before returning. I also review how they respond asynchronously to Quick Query questions. I can email them and ask questions or coach them to adopt certain attitudes. For instance, this year, I find myself emphasising that they are not only modelling writing, but modelling learning. They need to adopt a collaborative learning posture. If they don’t know the answer to a student writer’s question, they need to say, “You know what, I’ve no idea, but let’s find out together”. They need to remember they are good writers because they are good learners, and they need to model their research, writing and learning processes and strategies if they are going to help others to become better writers.
But I miss tutors pulling me out of my office and into their sessions. I miss learning about papers and problems I had never encountered before. Mostly, though, I miss the laughing, the back-slapping, the roaring, the stressing, the questioning and the instructing, the demonstrating and the praising, writers talking about writing. I miss hearing the sound of talk, the sound of triumph coming through the noise.
Lawrence Cleary is Director of the Regional Writing Centre in the University of Limerick.
 All of our front-of-house administrators are hired from a pool of 2nd-year undergraduates who leave studies for six months to work as part of their Cooperative Education Programme requirement.
 North, S. M. (1982). Training tutors to talk about writing. College Composition and Communication, 33(4), 434-441.
Latest News // NF Team
National Forum events that are coming up shortly include
- VIT&L Week 08-12 November 2021. ‘VIT&L week’ will give the Irish higher education community a chance to come together to consider how we value teaching and learning and what the future of education will look like for the students of tomorrow. Valuing Ireland’s Teaching & Learning (VIT&L) Week is for everyone. We would like as many colleagues as possible to get involved over the week. As well as participating during the week please consider contributing through the Scholarship Showcase or the VIT&L Events.
Information about the Open Courses which will be offered in the first half of this academic year is available on the Open Courses webpages. Open Courses which begin in October 2021 include PACT L2L:
- Commitment to Professional Development for Librarians
- Universal Design in Teaching and Learning
- Academic Writing Practice
- Steps to Partnership. Support Authentic Student Engagement in Decision-Making
Open Educational Resources (OER)
We continue to develop the National Resource Hub which was launched on 18 June 2021. The National Resource Hub is a searchable collection of OER for teaching and learning from across the Irish higher education sector. Within the hub, you can search, browse and submit Creative Commons licensed OER. We invite you to explore the continually growing range of OER on the National Resource Hub and think about resources that you might like to submit.
New guides and supports have been added to our website to help you with open licensing and in using OER and OEP (open educational practices) in teaching and learning. Check out http://www.teachingandlearning.ie/open
Next Steps is a national sectoral partnership project which has as one of its central aims the answering of the question, in the context of COVID-19, ‘What have we learnt and what does it mean for the future of teaching and learning in Irish higher education?’ The project is running from April 2021 until November 2021 when the project findings will be launched by Minister Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. Further information about the project is available at this link. All queries related to the Next Steps project should be send to email@example.com.
Professional Recognition Model
As part of the fulfilment of its strategic aims, the National Forum is working with an Advisory Group to develop a professional recognition model. The Advisory Group will complete this work with the National Forum by December 2021. Subsequently, it is intended that the National Forum will share the proposed model with the sector and seek responses to it.
You can become more actively involved with the work of the National Forum by signing up to our National Forum Panel here.
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