The National Forum in partnership with the Irish Research Council, awarded National Forum Postgraduate Scholarships for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education in 2014 and 2015. These scholarships were linked to the National Forum’s Teaching for Transitions Enhancement Theme 2013-15.

A key part of the Forum activity is the advancement of the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education and the development of enhanced practices which are supported by contemporary pedagogical research. The National Forum Scholarships contributed to the enhancement approach with their focus on developing new understandings in supporting transitions through effective teaching and learning.

The National Forum scholars were selected through the Irish Research Council process for the award of postgraduate scholarships. Scholars were required to liaise with the National Forum core team, to share emerging research findings, to collaborate with other Forum scholars and to participate in National Forum events.

All scholars presented a summary of their work at the National Summit for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education 2015.

David Azcona, Dublin City University

Rich MOOC / Poor MOOC –

What good data analytics can tell us about teaching and learning

David Azcona graduated from the Masters in Computing, Data Analytics program from Dublin City University, where he then commenced his studies for a PhD in Computing under the supervision of Professor Alan Smeaton in the Insight Centre for Data Analytics.

What is the focus of your PhD?

My PhD is focused on learning analytics, which is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about students and their contexts, in order to understand and optimize their learning. It leverages machine learning techniques built on data mining and artificial intelligence methods that are capable of detecting patterns in data for purposes such as student classification based on performance. My research is moving towards personalizing computer science education and recommending suitable learning resources to enhance the academic experience.

At what stage are you in your PhD process (as of December 2017)?

I am in the 3rd year of a four-year structured doctoral programme. At the moment, I am visiting Arizona State University as a Fulbright research scholar where I am researching the differences in learner behaviour in Computer Science between Ireland and the US, and how student collaboration with a university comprising such a large student body can be enabled.

What motivated you to apply for the National Forum Scholarship Programme?

The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s efforts of maximizing learning outcomes through student engagement and retention aligned very well with my project. They have been advocates for collaboration across higher education institutions by organizing seminars, meeting groups and making resources available. This has allowed us, Irish researchers and educators, to get together, share ideas and projects. See, for example, their project in learning analytics https://old.teachingandlearning.ie/building-digital-capacity/prespecified-national-projects/orla/

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your PhD to date?

Helping students to learn more computer programming skills and seeing the impact of our personalized suggestions has been amazing. At the moment, I am excited to apply the techniques and data-driven models learned in Arizona State University to Irish universities.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to people working in teaching and learning in Irish higher education?

Leveraging a data driven approach to fill the gaps in the student’s programming knowledge can be straightforward if proper data collection techniques for student data are in place. Data analytics and artificial intelligence are transforming other fields such as health care, transport or consumer behaviour. Higher education generates enormous data on students, yet it is inefficient in harnessing this information to discover the causes of student non-completion, for instance. We have the opportunity now to improve our teaching and become smarter institutions with data-evidence analytics playing a major role. Collaboration and sharing student data and knowledge is a must to tackle student engagement or non-completion, which has been historically a significant problem in teaching and learning.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to other early career scholars intending to embark on a PhD?

I see a PhD as a learning journey where candidates aspire to contribute to human knowledge and make the world a better place. If you are passionate about research and collaboration, a PhD might be for you!

What are you hoping to do upon completion of your PhD?

After the completion of my doctoral research, I would like to continue my work in higher education as a lecturer while building on my existing professional links with large companies that develop analytics software. This collaboration will enable me to harness my expertise in both the educational field and the business world, bringing a practical approach to my work. To find out more about my interests and research visit https://computing.dcu.ie/~dazcona/

Resources

Oisín Ó Doinn, Dublin City University.

Implementing a cultural historical activity theory approach in a blended learning course for ab initio learners of Irish.

Oisín Ó Doinn finished his undergraduate degree in Business and Irish with Dublin City University in 2011. He was awarded a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship at the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota to teach Irish from 2011-12. This experience sparked his interest in teaching ab initio language learners. [read more=”Read more…” less=”Read less”]On returning to Ireland in 2012 Oisín undertook a masters in Scríobh agus Cumarsáid na Gaeilge (The Writing and Communication of Irish) in University College Dublin. He completed his masters in 2013 and received a first class honours. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD in techno-pedagogy focusing on blended learning for ab initio language learners with Fiontar, Dublin City University.

Oisín enjoys sharing the Irish language and Irish culture with people from around the world. He has taught Irish with a variety of institutions and organisations over the years including: University College Dublin, The German Embassy in Dublin and Gael Linn. He also has a keen interest in technology and has been involved in several online projects that promote the teaching and learning of Irish online. The most notable project that Oisín has been involved in to date is the free online Irish course provided by Duolingo. Oisín contributes to this course which currently has over one million registered users worldwide.[/read]

What is the focus of your PhD?

The focus of my PhD is on blended learning. Specifically, I am focusing on the activity of ab initio language learners in a bespoke blended learning environment using Cultural-Historical Activity Theory as my theoretical framework.

At what stage are you in your PhD process (as of December 2017)?

I am in the final stages of my PhD. I am currently in the process of correcting and redrafting parts of my thesis.

What motivated you to apply for the National Forum Scholarship Programme?

Dublin City University encouraged me to apply for the scholarship programme.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your PhD to date?

The most rewarding aspect of my PhD was conducting my main study at Carnegie Mellon University in 2016.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to people working in teaching and learning in Irish higher education?

I have learned so much in relation to various fields that it is hard to provide a succinct answer to this question. One of the main things that I have learned is that the approach to learning technologies and the implementation of appropriate pedagogies to make use of the affordances of these technologies is seriously lacking in higher education. This is true not just here in Ireland but in the rest of the EU and North America as well.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to other early career scholars intending to embark on a PhD?

I have learned three things; 1) just write, 2) If you think you have read enough you haven’t, and 3) Nvivo and Endnote are your best friends.

What are you hoping to do upon completion of your PhD?

I hope to continue my research into blended learning and computer-aided language learning in order to positively impact the way in which language education is provided in formal settings.

Resources

140103_w100_9114_gert-portrait_homeGertrude Cotter, University College Cork

Civic Engagement in Social Justice Issues: Examining the Impact of Transformative and Innovative Pedagogical Methods on Student Teachers at University College Cork and on Local and International Communities of Interest

Gertrude Cotter is a PhD candidate at the School of Education, University College Cork.  Her chosen field of study is Civic Engagement in Social Justice issues by student teachers and community partners at home and abroad.  Her theoretical frameworks are critical pedagogy and education for sustainable development and global citizenship. This reflects her deep commitment over thirty years to development and social justice issues at home and abroad.  [read more=”Read more…” less=”Read less”]She has worked as a development worker in Bolivia and Thailand and she has managed community development projects and family resource centres in Ireland.  She also worked for almost a decade as CEO of a leading refugee and migrant-support organisation in Ireland.  She led several research projects documenting the experiences of migrants and Asylum-Seekers in Ireland and edited a number of publications.  She has also been a board member of several organisations working in the community and voluntary sector in Ireland.
Gertrude has also lectured at university level in the fields of Development Studies, International Relations, Latin American History, Social Care Management, Development Management, Intercultural Communications and Community Development.  She has seven post-graduate qualifications including three masters, in History, Development Management and Digital Humanities. Gertrude is currently embracing new web2 technologies and is interested in exploring meanings for the humanities as well as practical applications of such technologies.[/read]

What is the focus of your PhD?

My PhD is an exploration of the experiences of student and community partners, in Cork, Lesvos and Lesotho, of social justice issues, using global justice theoretical frameworks. It asks “what can educators learn about student engagement in Global and Local Social Justice issues, through research on community-based learning and multi-media enhanced methodologies and what is the impact on community partners”?  Using a Critical Ethnographical approach, I have been exploring how working closely with students individually and in small groups, using community-based-learning methods, can enhance the student learning experience. This provides evidence of the importance of deeply student-focused and also community-based pedagogy.

At what stage are you in your PhD process (as of December 2017)?

I am in my fourth and final year, the empirical work has been carried out and I am currently writing up the first draft of the thesis. I plan to complete the PhD by October 2018.

What motivated you to apply for the National Forum Scholarship Programme?

This scholarship programme aligned closely with my research interests. My research is about teaching and learning in higher education and it links also to the National Forum’s theme of “transitions”. Students are in transition to the world of work and adult life. The world itself is in transition politically, economically, environmentally, culturally and technologically. I wanted to bring real-world based learning, the digital humanities and global justice education together so that each could be informed by the other, thus developing new understandings in supporting transitions through effective teaching and learning.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your PhD to date?

This has been a rewarding experience and a privilege on many levels. Firstly, there is the time and space to read deeply about issues which I feel passionate about. As someone who has worked for thirty years, I appreciate that this is a luxury not available to all. In a global context we do need, I feel, to remember our privilege. Secondly, I have been humbled and enriched by my work with students and communities. It has been deeply rewarding to witness a myriad of learnings on all sides. These have included the development of skills, knowledge and values relating to social justice, radio and digital technologies across intercultural, inter-generational, inter-mixed ability settings. I feel stronger and more able to define my future academic journey which hopefully will continue to weave together the theory and practice of global and local community-based learning. Thirdly, I have been able to learn and network at Irish and international conferences. This has been important to me because it has enabled me to clarify my own thinking and present my ideas to others, leading also to the writing of a book chapter and journal article. I have also learnt greatly from the work of others.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to people working in teaching and learning in Irish higher education?

Working collaboratively with partners, on real community-based problems, locally and internationally, brings a perspective to learning which is meaningful and which helps students to make sense of theory. This work is not just about “doing projects” in the community and a social justice theoretical framework is vital.

The community and the university are each enhanced by such partnerships. My research suggests that for partner groups this learning approach is positive but there are ethical issues around power and autonomy which are important with less experienced groups. Developing an ongoing relationship with a number of partners is perhaps a useful approach for educators.

Students and community partners embrace learning new skills such as digital story- telling, digital archiving and skills associated with online intercultural exchanges and online forums and radio is particularly popular. However, the human connection (students, partners, educators) is paramount and is at the heart of good pedagogy.

This pedagogical model changes the role of the educator. The educator needs to learn how to weave academic frameworks into a collaborative relationship in a way which helps students and partners to find their voice. There is a dialogue with the student and not a “one size fits all”.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to other early career scholars intending to embark on a PhD?

Firstly, I would say to a prospective PhD student, “enjoy it”. I know that when I look back these will have been one of the happiest few years of my life. Often, we forget what a privilege it is to have this opportunity and it is one we rarely get with other life and career commitments.

Those intending to carry out a PhD would benefit from being offered opportunities to hear from current or recent PhD scholars. Everyone’s journey is different, and this difference should be encouraged and celebrated. At the same time, one finds that PhD students tend to have some similar experiences, even across disciplines. It is normal to go through highs and lows; a PhD student is furrowing a lonely furrow since this piece of research is their own unique contribution to academia. Those with mental health challenges may find the effects of isolation difficult and meeting fellow PhD students shows them that others are going through similar trajectories. There are also professional supports in the universities and students can seek these out.

Academically too and career-wise, forging networks is important e.g. with academics and organisations in their field. Attending conferences is great for networking and learning.

What are you hoping to do upon completion of your PhD?

Having had a long career to date as the CEO or manager of various organisations in Ireland and abroad, I now want to bring my experience to bear on the next generation while at the same time learning from them. I am interested in developing a full time academic career which brings together my thirty years of development work, my five post-graduate degrees to date, my interest in higher level pedagogy and my academic interests in global and local justice issues. I would like to work as a lecturer or researcher and continue to explore community and online collaborations on global social justice issues. I would like to find a way to develop a Global Citizenship module at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels to be made available to all students in UCC, across all disciplines and I would like to develop a masters course within UCC on Global Citizenship.

Resources

DiarmuidDiarmaid Hyland, Dublin City University

Investigating students’ difficulties with differential equations in physics

Diarmaid Hyland is a 22 year-old student from Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. He recently graduated from the B.Sc in Science Education program from Dublin City University, where he is continuing his studies as one of the inaugural National Forum Scholars.

Under the supervision of Dr Paul van Kampen and Dr Brien Nolan, Diarmaid is investigating the subtleties of tertiary mathematics education. As there’s such a small body of work on mathematics education at third level (relative to primary or indeed secondary level), the idea of working in a field that is in its infancy was intriguing to Diarmaid.

What is the focus of your PhD?

The focus of my PhD is how physics students learn mathematics. Using mathematics is a central part of many courses in higher education but students frequently struggle to use the mathematics they have been taught when it appears in their degree programmes. The focus of my research is to try and address this issue.

In doing so, I have developed a set of tutorials that have been successful for our students. It is hoped that this work offers a blueprint for work in fields outside of physics where differential equations are used, and potentially for other types of mathematics.

At what stage are you in your PhD process (as of December 2017)?

I began the fourth year of my scholarship in October 2017 and I am in the closing stages of the PhD process. A large amount of data has been gathered across each year of the project, concerning four consecutive year groups. The duration of the scholarship has been integral in allowing so much data to be collected. Currently, the primary focus is writing a second paper – a first has just been published (Outcomes of a Service Teaching Module on ODEs for Physics Students, International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, published online 14th December 2017, https://doi.org/10.1080/0020739X.2017.1410736). As soon as this is complete, the final write-up will begin and I will look to submit as soon as possible.

What motivated you to apply for the National Forum Scholarship Programme?

The National Forum Scholarship Programme was the best scholarship available when I decided to apply for funding. The goals of the Forum aligned perfectly with the project that my supervisors and I had in mind. The success of the project is a direct result of this alignment and the support given to me by the Forum.

The duration and financial support of the scholarship meant that I could devote myself fully to the project. It also enabled me to travel to conferences and events, experiencing all aspects of early career research.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your PhD to date?

The most rewarding aspect of my PhD to date has been my involvement with students, both inside and outside the classroom. I am very fortunate that the nature of my project has allowed me to teach regularly because of the enjoyment I take from the interactions I have with students.

Although the tutorials we developed are delivered over the course of one semester, the positive experience of the students continues into the rest of their degree. I consider my ongoing relationship with these students to be very rewarding and think of it as a positive reflection on the project.

Whenever your work affects change, regardless of scale, you should consider it to be a positive contribution. The more far-reaching the effect becomes, the greater the reward because of the number of students that have had a positive experience.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to people working in teaching and learning in Irish higher education?

I have learned that our students can provide great insight into our teaching, both the content we teach and the way we deliver our lessons. Today’s student is very different to the student of five years ago, and sometimes we can show a lack of empathy. When engaged with in the correct manner, they can articulate their difficulties, display their strengths, and highlight areas of interest or relevance. These are the key components to any reform curriculum and can also offer educators valuable feedback to improve their own practice. In my time as a postgrad I have learned more from the students I work with than I thought possible. Although this is undoubtedly magnified by my inexperience beforehand, I do believe that everyone can learn something about themselves or their practice from the students they interact with.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to other early career scholars intending to embark on a PhD?

I learned that a PhD is not a solo undertaking, so don’t try to do it by yourself. Make the most of your support networks (both personally and professionally) and let this guide you. This is particularly important at the beginning when you are still adjusting to the process. Personally, lean on your friends and family when you need to. Professionally, make use of your supervisor(s) and the more experienced postgrads. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help, and crucially don’t be afraid to make mistakes. No matter who you are mistakes are inevitable, the only requirement is that you learn from them and grow. Think of your PhD as an apprenticeship, you are constantly learning new skills and refining the ones already required. Mistakes are a prerequisite of progress.

I have also learned that a work-life balance is vital. Even if you love what you are doing it is important to take breaks from your work. A PhD is a significant undertaking and the correct balance between work and self is pivitol. Without doubt, finding a balance that suited me increased my efficiency and work capacity even though I reduced the amount of time I spent working.

What are you hoping to do upon completion of your PhD?

I have enjoyed every minute of my experience so far and I would love to continue teaching and researching in higher education upon completion of my PhD. It will be very difficult to secure a post that allows me to do both, but if one were to arise I would relish the opportunity. In addition to the skills I have gained, I am sure that my experiences throughout the PhD process have given me the confidence and experience necessary to succeed in whatever path I choose.

Resources

IMG_5536Buse Gamze Ustundag, Dublin City University

An investigation into the acculturation experiences of Muslim students in third level education in the Republic of Ireland

My research interest lies in investigating the experiences of international Muslim students in an Irish University, which in this case is DCU. Their experiences cover a broad range of topics including their intercultural interactions on campus, host families role in their transition from their home culture to that of the host as well as their adaptation to the Irish academic environment and pedagogical challenges they come across.

[read more=”Read more…” less=”Read less”]The study also looks at these topics’ relation to each other while attempting to grow a better insight into the lives of this particular cohort of students. From a more personal perspective, my own experiences of moving to Ireland as an ethnically Muslim student from Turkey and integrating with Irish civic culture in an educational setting together with my background in teaching in a medical university with a large number of Muslim students consequently led me to this research concern. This branch of research has largely been neglected in Ireland despite the changing body of international students. Furthermore the growing international interest toward Muslim communities makes this research project timely.

It is hoped that this study will analyse data derived from the inquiry, draw a conceptual model to explain the lived experiences of international Muslim students, foster intercultural, inter-ethnic relations and understand and appreciate religious pluralism on campus. It is also hoped that the findings of this study has the potential to be incorporated into the Higher Education Authority (HEA) National Strategy for Higher Education 2030.[/read]

What is the focus of your PhD?

The focus of my PhD is to explore the experiences of international Muslim students in an Irish university. Their experiences cover a broad range of topics including participants’ reflections of identity and culture, intercultural interactions on campus, perceptions of the host society regarding Muslims, perceived host receptivity and multiculturalism on campus. The study is also concerned with exploring students’ academic experiences as part of their sojourner experience and the impact of higher education in Ireland on their personhood. Additionally, this study investigates internationalisation of higher education in Ireland from the perspective of international Muslim students.

At what stage are you in your PhD process (as of December 2017)?

I have successfully defended my thesis in February 2017 and submitted the final version in June 2017. My degree has recently been conferred in DCU graduation ceremony in November 2017.

What motivated you to apply for the National Forum Scholarship Programme?

Teaching and learning constitutes an essential part of international Muslim students’ experiences in Irish t education. The National Forum places teaching and learning in the centre of all research and enhancement projects. The overlapping focus of my project and the mission of the Forum motivated me greatly to apply for the funding. Additionally, the Forum’s rich seminar agendas create a great opportunity to engage, disseminate, and network.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your PhD to date?

The most rewarding two aspects of my PhD have been the intellectual growth I experienced as a researcher and the contribution of my thesis to the enhancement of teaching and learning in Irish higher education from the perspective of international students.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to people working in teaching and learning in Irish higher education?

One of the most compelling findings of the study is the shortcomings of a multicultural approach to education. The need for an intercultural curriculum is evident both for relationship development on campus and the development of intercultural personhood among both international and Irish students. The curriculum is essentially what brings international students to Ireland with the aim of receiving a degree in their respective programmes. Therefore, it is crucial that curricular and extra-curricular activities encouraging intercultural interaction among students are reflected in teaching and learning.

What have you learned through your PhD that may be helpful to other early career scholars intending to embark on a PhD?

I would like to list what I have learnt through your PhD that may be helpful to other early career scholars intending to embark on a PhD as below:

Time management: It is essential that an early career scholars take control of their time. Dividing the PhD into stages, and stages into time frames will help organise your relationship with your supervisors as well.

Resilience: It is really important to be aware that a PhD has its ups and downs. Always take ownership of your project and don’t keep the hard work until the end.

Networking: Another really important point is how you use your time during the PhD for networking. Attending conferences and disseminating your work will improve your visibility greatly.

Dissemination: A PhD is all about getting your idea out there, to make a contribution to the knowledge. Therefore do not be shy to attend, speak and connect. This will also help you for your post-doctoral studies.

Scholarship: Being funded by a transparent and committed research body (such as the Forum) will make your studies much easier in terms of financial stability. It is also very important to feel supported and have opportunities to engage with the research community throughout your studies.

What are you hoping to do upon completion of your PhD?

I am hoping to conduct further research on the experiences of both international and domestic Muslim students in Irish higher education that could eventually offer invaluable insights into intercultural curriculum development in Ireland.

Resources