Our Current Research

Launch of Teaching Research Laboratory (TRL) by President Patrick O'Shea

28 Nov 2017
The newly refurbished Teaching Research Laboratory, School of Education UCC, Donovan's Road, Cork.

The TRL on Donovan's Road has been refurbished as an exciting research and learning space with impressive digital capacities for students to use. A TRL research seminar series has also been announced.

President Patrick O'Shea launched the TRL and a speech was given by Dr. Fiachra Long, Head of the School of Education at the event. The huge efforts Dr. Stephen O'Brien and Dr. Vanessa Rutherford (School of Education) put into visualising the new TRL space, co-ordinating the TRL project with colleagues across UCC and beyond, and bringing the TRL to fruition was particularly commended. The text of Dr. Long's speech is below.

School of Education Students should note that TRL now has extended opening hours: Monday to Friday 10AM-10PM and Saturday-Sunday 10AM-6PM. Students can access the TRL by swiping their UCC Student ID card.

A TRL Research Seminar Series has also been confirmed as follows:

30 November 2017 Wesley O’Brien: ‘Participation in sport and physical activity among Irish children and youth: CSPPA follow up’

7 December 2017 Fiachra Long:  ‘Classroom phenomenology’

18 January 2018 Tadhg Crowley: ‘Museums and social change’ 

1 February 2018: Gertrude Cotter ‘Bringing community-based learning and digital technologies together to enhance engagement with social justice issues in Third Level’ 

22 February 2018: Kathy Hall ‘Issues in evaluating national policy initiatives: An example from Initial Teacher Education’ 

8 March 2018  Steve O’Brien: ‘What’s the point of education stories? On making a case for critical ethnography’

22 March 2018 Martin Hammersley: ‘Writing educational ethnography’ 

12 April 2018 Vanessa Rutherford: ‘Critical historical approaches to education’ 

26 April 2018 Maura Cunneen and Marcella Towler: ‘Friedrich Froebel: Past, present and potential’


Dr. Fiachra Long's Speech at the Launch of the TRL

This is the second visit of our President to this room but his first visit to this space. A short time after his election as President of UCC, he came on an information finding mission to the school and met with students from different courses. He is very welcome here again this time to a new space, a space of learning, a space governed by the idea of a Teaching and Research Laboratory. A Teaching and Research Laboratory focuses on one of the main resources in the School, its people, its current researchers and the researchers in potential which the use of these facilities will make possible both through national and international collaboration and through outreach into schools and classrooms in the wider Munster area. 

I know from my time as a PhD student in Louvain-la-Neuve that the numerous seminars, to which doctoral students were invited, provided a focus for my studies, even if the themes and specialisations were not my own. I would not have used the term collaborative to describe them but collaboration was their effect. Now, through the benefits of technology, we are part of a global network and the idea of a seminar closed off in spatial terms will recede into the past. European contact is now part of many degree programmes and it would be appropriate for this to happen with teachers, schools and researchers across the board. This is why the establishment of this space in the context of our programmes in the School of Education is so timely. 

Chatting with Steve O Brien here, I note that he had a similar experience in Bristol, that the PhD student or indeed the solitary staff member intent on his way into publishing needed collaborative supports. When we began speaking with Vanessa Rutherford who had had some responsibility for the old TRL in recent years, a new vision for the space began to materialise. By coincidence,  the strategic vision of the Vice President’s Office for Teaching and Learning and Prof. John O Halloran had led to the opening of a fund for NEXT GENERATION LEARNING SPACES and wider interests in the University began to plan major infrastructural changes to the campus at large. I suppose one could say that a network of forces combined, some coincidentally, some because of planning, some by disposition to enable relevant actors to come together in a network that has eventually led to the re-conception of this learning space. 

Many thanks have to go to many individuals but I will leave these details for the moment to Dr Stephen O Brien who will speak presently. 

As Head of School, I am particularly mindful of the watchful eye of Teaching Council on all our developments here. When our programmes come up for reaccreditation in 2019-20, I am confident that the changes we have made to the infrastructure here will serve us well. Critical educational information does not always take the shape of documents, articles, books, handouts but are now becoming multi-media in character, more live and internationally shared. The idea of a commonly shared seminar with other institutes is no longer just a dream nor do students necessarily have to travel to achieve contacts with others working in the same or related fields. 

I am also aware of our Research Quality Improvement Plan and the need to facilitate our young researchers along the path of digesting, polishing and publishing. 

During a recent Conferring ceremony, I heard our current President slip in an interesting remark about the relative value of the human sciences as distinct from the exact sciences. The exact sciences, if I understood him correctly tell us how to do things; the human sciences, including the social sciences, tell us why we do them, why we should do them and what ultimate human purpose such actions achieve. 

An interesting view. There are research scientists who wear white coats and research scientists who don’t wear white coats. In the nineteenth century, the German philosopher, Wilhelm Dilthey, argued for a separation of the exact sciences from the human sciences and since then the twentieth century has witnessed an ever widening chasm between these two branches of learning. The Science buildings over here and the Humanities Buildings over there… Indeed, there is some evidence that much of the energy of the Human Sciences during the twentieth century went into trying to reinvent themselves in the image and likeness of the exact sciences, supporting the establishment of quantitative methods almost as a norm and applying these methods to all the human arts like teaching and learning. C.P. Snow’s famous book in the 1960s, The Two Cultures,  set about explaining the rationale for this change. Snow, a trained classicism, became an outspoken advocate of quantitative methods but he was only one of quite a number of people. 

Educational methods that do not mimic the methods of the exact sciences will be very much central in the twenty-first century for a number of pretty salient reasons. The sciences themselves have begun to realise the importance of a set of human values, not just to satisfy an Ethics committee, but because their work is beginning to have long term and irreversible implications for human life. We can see this in climate issues. The deterioration of the climatic conditions for many people, rich and poor, have brought scientists back to considering the whole issue of economic impacts on human environments and how human environments might be sustained. Plastic pollutants in our oceans have reached critical levels. General inequalities point to the unsustainability of life lived at peace with one another. Critical mass in terms of migration is impacting on societies and causing different kinds of reaction. Genetic manipulation is raising serious questions pointing at the meaning of human enhancement and its possible achievement apart from educational means. The automation of many industries is locating work more and more in the domain of machines. It is now exact scientists themselves who point to certain negative consequences for human life of their own inventions. This is why I think we have moved from an epoch where the methods of the exact sciences were dominant across the board to an epoch where the issue of human values have become central. 

We expect researchers in white coats to develop methods that guarantee the prevention of radioactive gas leaks from their experiments, whereas researchers without white coats are not masters of method but are responsible for tracing out the figures of a human future, working out the creative ways human life will be presented in the future.  Our future teachers are critical to this process. Their use of the new technologies need to demonstrate that technology too can be used in the service of human values, that it is humans who are in the business of nurturing the young who continue to control the machinery surrounding us all. How they use this space is likely to be a telling indicator of this fundamentally moral challenge. 

The philosopher Martin Buber once wrote that we need to convince the students in our care that there is a human meaning before we try to influence them one way or the other and I see that this Teaching Research Laboratory plays its role in the exploration of future and imagined human meanings. We work steadily to persuade the avoidance of the rote learning routines which promote mechanical behaviours while emptying life of its creativity and its human meaning, especially life at its most vulnerable times, growing up, facing into the world, looking for a sense of oneself as one is faced with overwhelming information, multiple choices, numerous enticements, changeable careers, infinite possibilities. Young people today have to grapple with a culture of multiplicities, multiple selves, multiple identities, multiple orientations, multiple religions and the means provided by the social media to split oneself among these multiplicities. As an antidote to this generalised fragmentation, learners need to be persuaded of the collaborative spaces of learning where a culture of interdependence can be nurtured, where the benefits of exchange can be seen to have a concrete effect, where human values might prevail over competition. 

This TRL is not just fabric, not just space age dressing for conventional patterns that lie unchallenged. It is an opportunity to enact those patterns of human exchange which make human life meaningful in a new age and worth supporting for our students in the years ahead.  

Dr Fiachra Long, 08/11/2017 


For more on this story contact:

Email: schoolofeducationtrl@ucc.ie

Dr Stephen O'Brien: s.obrien@ucc.ie 

Dr. Vanessa Rutherford: v.rutherford@ucc.ie


School of Education

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Leeholme, O' Donovan's Road, Cork, Ireland