Needs Must

‘Let’s be real about teaching online during Covid 19’

  • Clíodhna O’Callaghan, LL.B., LL.M., Attorney-at-Law, C.T.E, PhD Candidate
    Digital Education Officer / Oifigeach Oideachas Digiteach
    Centre for Digital Education / Ionad um Oideachas Digiteach
    IUA Project Lead for UCC on ‘Enhancing Digital Teaching & Learning’


I started a new job in UCC last December working on an exciting project with the ultimate goal of enhancing the overall digital experience and attributes of our third level students through supporting staff with their professional development. I’m honoured to be leading out on this project for the Irish Universities Association in UCC on ‘Enhancing Digital Teaching & Learning’. However, due to our current reality, my advice may contradict some of what we are advocating for nationally in our work. We are not working or living in anywhere near normal circumstances right now and so our typical expectations of ourselves in the context of teaching online, putting content online etc. do not apply. What we need to do right now is what works best given the circumstances. Please relieve yourselves from high expectations right now because that will be the best thing you can do for both your students and yourself.

I personally moved from traditional class based teaching to teaching online in 2014 and this was a planned and supported move when I was lecturing in law. A very different experience to what you are going through right now and I appreciate that. However, I have to say it was one of the best professional experiences of teaching and learning I ever had. So, when you have a moment, embrace it and see what potential is out there for the future. Yes, there are some pretty amazing online learning tools out there, but before diving in, stop and ask yourself what is absolutely essential right now.  When deciding, remember:

  • Your students often know less about technology than you think and many are even less confident than you are (yes, even though they are younger than you!). This was evident in the data we recently gathered in the INDEx Survey.
  • Many students will be accessing their modules on their phones and have limited data.
  • Other students may not have access to a computer, high speed wifi, a printer/scanner, or a camera. Remember, when they registered, they expected to have access to the library and other campus resources (including computer labs).
  • Those students with ready access to computers, etc. will likely be sharing their devices with other household members meaning that they may have LESS time to study and not more.
  • Many students are also minding children, elderly relatives, sick family members or might even be ill themselves so will need as much flexibility as possible to complete their modules.

All of these factors, and more, mean that your students are facing unprecedented challenges (I realise we all are) and so accessing your lecture online might not be top of their priorities. Given the above, the best thing you can do for your students is make it as easy as possible for them to access your module, lectures, readings etc. Some advice to do so is below:


  1. There are three new pages designed for you and your students available on the UCC website which are incredibly useful:
    1. Keep Teaching 2. Keep Learning 3. Keep Assessing
  2. Keep it simple. Try to use as few new technologies right now and use the technologies that are supported by UCC, specifically Canvas.

  3. Be flexible. Ideally, right now, do not organise your teaching/revision classes online to demand synchronous work. If students need to show up at a specific time for something, it has a hugely negative knock on effect for everyone. Firstly, life just doesn’t run in straight lines, and more than ever, we cannot rely on tomorrow. Secondly, this asks for trouble in terms technology crashing, poor connection to wifi etc. (We appreciate this has to be the case for some assessments but ideally not).

  4. You have already built up a strong connection with your students – they know and trust you. Therefore, the need to record your lectures for the remainder of the semester isn’t there. This will be a low priority for your students right now. Ensuring they have access to the resources they need to complete the remainder of your module is what is important right now.

  5. Of course, it may be absolutely necessary and sensible to record your lectures when information cannot be learned otherwise. Panopto is your ideal resource for this and AVMS in UCC list lots of other video options available to you here. A good way to record is one topic per lecture (trying to keep it short and sweet). Don’t worry about editing – just be yourself. It does not need to be perfect. Especially right now.

  6. Communication is key right now with your students as well as managing each other’s expectations. I realise it can sometimes feel like handholding and I know this is not the culture you wish to foster amongst your cohort. However, there’s a lot going on now for everyone. Reminders are invaluable. Remind them of deadlines, and assessment dates etc. A lot. Personally, these days, I need a reminder for everything whether it’s a submission deadline date or an appointment for my children.

There are lots of invaluable supports out there for you and for your students so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. Remember that you can contact me and/or book a consultation with an instructional designer in the Centre for Digital Education in UCC for support with teaching and learning online.


You can reach Clíodhna at:


Office of the VP for Learning and Teaching

Oifig an Leasuachtaráin Foghlama agus Teagaisc

East Wing, Main Quadrangle, UCC