Clíodhna O'Callaghan, IUA Project Lead for UCC on ‘Enhancing Digital Teaching & Learning’ talks about the importance of this project for remote teaching and learning during Covid19’
Can you tell us about yourself and your role in Digital Education in UCC?
Having worked in UCC for five years I took up a project management role last December on an exciting IUA (Irish Universities Association) project called 'Enhancing Digital Teaching & Learning' (EDTL). This is a 3 year project, which is funded through the HEA’s Innovation and Transformation Programme, and is aimed at enhancing the digital attributes and educational experiences of Irish university students through enabling the mainstreamed and integrated use of digital technologies across the teaching and learning process. The project aims to mainstream digital in teaching and learning activities in Irish Universities, by addressing the professional development of all who teach or support teaching and learning.
In the context of Covid-19, the project has re-focused to support a move to a more blended approach to teaching and learning in the academic year 2020/21, while adhering to the four project pillars:
Not starting from zero: we recognise the work that is already being done within the participating universities and aim to build on existing resources, experience and expertise within the universities, and at a national level.
Pedagogy first: our work is not technology-led, instead we aim to start with pedagogical needs of a group or individual, and consider how technology might be used to support these.
Discipline focus: our aim is not to build technology champions, but instead to raise the level of digital competence across a discipline, school, programme group or team.
Students as partners: we are working with students as key members of the project at all levels.
The EDTL Approach describes a pathway with considerations for those who are adapting a module or programme for effective remote teaching.
My role is to lead on this project for UCC, working with staff, both academic and professional, to support their digital learning needs thereby enhancing both the staff and student digital experience within the University.
How has Corona Virus impacted on your role?
On taking up this role I could never have imagined how relevant this work would become in 2020! When the staff in UCC downed tools on that 12th of March, I'm sure they could never imagined how many new digital tools they would be learning about remotely and within such a short space of time. That's where our IUA project came in as an important support for staff across the seven Universities in Ireland. We had to re-focus our project to be as responsive as possible to the needs of our staff and guide them in the most suitable direction for their work. I have been working from home myself along with my colleagues in UCC since the 12th of March and count myself as very lucky in many ways in this context. I had the office space within my home already set up for work and study, as well as living in the beautiful countryside of Baile Mhúirne which I appreciated even more during those early days of lockdown. Not all staff have been in as good a situation and have faced quite challenging remote working situations. It must be said that regardless of the challenges everyone went above and beyond to ensure our students were always front and centre of our work, and that no student would experience any academic disadvantage as a result of the crisis and the unforeseen situation we all found ourselves it.
My role now as Project Lead and Digital Education Officer in the Centre for Digital Education in UCC is a much more important role given the circumstances, and I'm delighted to be working with colleagues across the University in identifying training needs, and working with colleagues across the Office of the Vice President for Learning & Teaching, in responding to those needs as effectively as possible. We are preparing for remote teaching for the coming academic year, bearing in mind that each school/department is taking their own approach to their teaching and learning and therefore it is critical that each student would stay in contact with their own programme coordinator/point of contact in relation to the programme delivery. It should be noted that in normal circumstances if we were preparing for online/blended delivery of a whole programme, it could take up to two years in terms of the preparation. Now, we have a few months! Months that are already packed and bursting at the seams for most who have their own unique personal challenges to deal with, as well as their regular workload topped with additional work and time involved in learning new digital tools, skills, and competencies. Teaching remotely or via blended learning is not simply a matter of directly mimicking what you are already doing in a live session. A lot of thought and planning is needed. Consistency is critical, as is communication.
We, the IUA national team let by Dr. Sharon Flynn as overall project manager, have designed an approach for staff who are preparing for effective remote teaching in the year ahead https://edtl.blog/the-edtl-approach/. We have been delivering workshops all summer long at a national level, and we have all been working locally in our own Universities on initiatives in this regard. For example, in UCC, a number of colleagues and I designed a programme called 'Teach Digi', a bespoke programme for UCC staff supporting them as they prepare for the academic year of remote teaching https://www.ucc.ie/en/digital-ed/digital-education/teachdigi/. We do a lot of 1-2-1 sessions with staff, as well as team/departmental training and staff have been hugely appreciative of this support at this time. It sometimes can feel overwhelming for staff who have been teaching a certain way for 20 years or more, and simply knowing where to start, and someone they can ask any questions they might have to, means the world right now. Also, digital education, and technology in general, does not come easily to all, and some would even identify themselves as 'technophobes', and to be honest I can empathise with them. I started lecturing online myself in 2014 and it was a definite shock to the system, however I embraced it, and admit to really enjoying it too. However, we are living in the digital age and we have a responsibility to our students, and to society at large, to ensure training and supports are in place for all staff who are expected to use digital in their teaching and learning. While this is still considered extraordinary times, and there has been so much uncertainty that could not be avoided, we do know that digital will feature in everything that we do, education and otherwise, well into the future.
What is the challenge faced by UCC in the coming year/years due to Covid 19?
There are many challenges and mostly it comes back to ensuring the best possible student experience for our students. In a time of such uncertainty, our objective is to create structure and calm, and communicate with as much certainty as possible on how programmes will be delivered, and what they will look like. Our systems and frameworks in UCC are thankfully well prepared and resourced for the work that lies ahead. It is more so our staff that will need the support in learning new digital teaching skills and competencies, and while this will no doubt be challenging at times, we have supports in place that will help, like this IUA project for example.
How will attending UCC look and feel like for first year students in 2020/21?
First years are the Universities priority and an excellent orientation programme is currently being finalised to ensure as smooth as possible a transition into University. As I said, regardless of the programme specific delivery, as every programme may differ slightly, communication will be critical, and that is a two way process. There's no point in saying that everything will run smoothly. No doubt there will be bumps. This is very new for so many. That is not unique to UCC, we have to remember that this is a global crisis and therefore extraordinary times regardless of your perspective. However, we are working very closely with our students in working with them in terms of preparing for the year ahead. We have a student intern working on this IUA project in UCC, and in each of the Universities, as well as at a national level, and that ensures that our pillar of 'students as partners' in our work is meaningful and grounded at all times with the interests of our students being at the heart of our work.
For more on this story contact:
Clíodhna O’Callaghan, LL.B., LL.M., Attorney-at-Law, C.T.E, PhD Candidate