Drumroll for a new semester

So here we are , September 1st 2020, the start of a shiny new semester!

Who could have predicted that we would be teaching almost entirely online this semester. What a rollercoaster 2020 has been.

After a brief breather this Summer (and re-acquiring a childminder) I am getting ready to go.

In March the Postgraduate Certificate in University Learning and Teaching pivoted online and this was a huge success. Underpinning this success, was the commitment of teachers on the programme and the dedication of the students, who were in turn pivoting online in their own teaching situations.

Feedback from the students about the PG Certificate online pivot was that it was useful to be an online learner while also trying to teach students online. Online teaching approaches modelled were then adapted and applied to their own teaching contexts.

For example, on the PG Certificate we used an online peer review system, which was in turn adapted by 2 lecturers in Languages and Early childcare. Use of classroom response systems such as Mentimeter, Kahoot and Padlet were also heavily applied in online teaching contexts. We brought our previously face-to-face activities of micro-teaching and observation of teaching online also.

More broadly, the LTTC provided a dynamic just-in-time approach in providing solutions for the online pivot and reached out to the TU Dublin community providing a series of webinars on online teaching, learning and importantly assessment.

Today the LTTC have launched the September series of webinars and a suite of resources on remote teaching

So for the PG Certificate I am really looking forward to our kick off on the 23rd of September. Meeting the students online is very exciting. Lots of interactive activities planned: ice breakers, discussions using forums, tools such as Padlet and Flipgrid. Building a solid online community among peers and lecturers at the start of semester is so important for ongoing engagement on any programme

In previous online teaching at DCU, short videos, were my mainstay in communicating with students – so much more can be communicated with video rather than just text-talk in emails.

For community building activities with my students I will be drawing on the following resources. A huge thank you for the greater higher education and academic development community for sharing these

Resource 1
Tips on establishing Social Presence – OpenTeach
DCU/National Forum

Resource 2
Damian Gordon – TU Dublin Computer science lecturer
See A Guide to Teaching Online

Resource 3
Faculty Focus : Tips for building social presence in your
online class

Resource 4
Community-Building Online – Open Resources
Video resources on this site show how to do various ice
breaker tasks with students

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A new resource on reflection – my reflection

Although I feel a bit under pressure with workload, engaging with this PACT course is a great opportunity to come across new resources to use in my own teaching! Thank you PACT creators! My colleague in PACT, Sandra, has also chosen this Prezi resource, the ‘Characteristics of reflective practitioner and good thinker’.

I am on the lookout for new resources for my teaching (Certificate in University in Learning and Teaching). This programme offers lecturers at TU Dublin the opportunity to reflect on their teaching practice, so I am on the hunt for new and various resources to support their understanding and engagement with reflective practice and thinking.  We use models from Rolfe, Gibbs, Brookfield but this Prezi resource, brings together the importance of reflective thinking and how it helps personal and professional development, as well as development of knowledge, skills, behaviours and emotional responses.

This resource acts as a reminder of the importance of reflective practice. As Sandra mentions in her post, relationships with peers are so important. My takeaway from this resource is that making time for relationships is key. , At the moment I feel very challenged,  working part-time and in a busy work environment. I feel I need to build in time to ensure that I foster open, healthy, respectful, inclusive relationships with my students and those on my programme team.

Coincidentally, last week in a discussion with students (lecturers on the Cert programme), they said a very important part of professional development for them has been the community, the conversation they have with their peers as part of the programme. Going forward, in my teaching, it will be really important that I hold space in the busy-ness of curriculum so that students can continue to develop relationships with one another and I can foster good communication and dialogue with them. That way, we value professional development, but we also value the people at the heart of our educational system, our teachers and any staff contributing to teaching. As Maya Angelou said: People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. By valuing our communities of practice, we are in a practical way framing the task of managing knowledge (Wenger, 1998).


Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity.



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Are we post-digital yet?

Post-digital…..Not quite yet!

In the past week, we were asked to reflect on the domains of the framework and ask a question of our peers on the PACT course.  So my question is: should  ‘digital capacity’ be included within the Framework? If we are living in a post-digital world where technology is at the heart of our educational vision and system, is there are need to include this as a specific domain?  How technologically-competent are staff who teach in higher education? Are staff comfortable engaging in ‘online educational spaces’?

My findings in my 2016 EdD research was that we are not quite there yet regarding the seamless use of technology. A lot done, a lot more to do as they say 😉  and it’s complicated, it’s not just about the technical aspects, the skills. Chiefly, our confidence and our identities prepare us or inhibit our participation in an online educational world.

More resources: 


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Me and my professional development?

So this PACT course has asked some useful questions. I’ve always been the one to urge others to list their PD activities, but now I get the opportunity to think about my own, list them and reflect upon them 🙂

The National professional development framework for all staff who teach in higher education provides 4 Typologies of Professional Development Activity, these span informal, non-formal and formal types. Being an academic developer I feel that I need to keep abreast of things in my area and in 2009 I discovered Twitter, from there I found a network of higher education professionals, teachers, academics, learning techs, academic developers, all sharing information on what I was interested in. All of this helped my professional learning. At the time Roisin Donnelly and I were establishing the MSc in Applied eLearning, the assessment included a professional ePortfolio.  So for me, Twitter was a way to update the students in all things eLearning while also showing them the power of Twitter and harnessing social networks offered in the online space. Ten years later Twitter is a useful tool for prof learning but a very different and more precarious space (I feel at least), indeed other early-academic-Twitter-adopters feel this way too. Despite this, Twitter can be a tool that enables informal learning, sharing and networking among professionals, a platform from where learning happens essentially.

My informal learning on Twitter, turned into formal professional learning when I turned it into an opportunity for research. I gathered data from a conference Twitter backchannel, and also interviewed higher education professionals on how and why they used Twitter for prof learning. I found that while they found it a useful learning tool, it was also used with trepidation. Some preferred to lurk on the Twitter backchannel rather than openly participate, and it was the highly confident professionals who tweeted openly and networked with others. Anyway, you can read more here on the ILTA journal or on the IJAD  journal. 

My professional learning has spanned the spectrum of types of prof learning


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Back to the (online) classroom!

I am back…

Back from Maternity leave and back on this blog after 2 years!!

So without thinking much about it, I signed myself up to join in the PACT digital badge from the National Forum for the enhancement of teaching and learning. This afternoon, we got a whistle-stop tour of the course from the facilitators and I am really looking forward to participating. I hope it might inform my work with the PG Cert students here at TU Dublin or perhaps play a role in their future CPD.

It also feels good to be back in a learning circle again, meeting peers and being part of a bigger network of teaching and learning development 🙂

We are all looking forward to ‘gaining and giving’ on the PACT course and working towards various aims that will help our learning and roles in various areas of work.

Screenshot 2019-11-05 at 13.36.51.png

As Ken, one of the facilitators said today: Every day is a school day!

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Action learning sets

I came across the use of action learning sets when working in the Institute of Leadership in the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. We designed action learning sets to involve students in small group work so they could solve real problems, take actions and learn from putting their solutions into action.

Questioning is important in action learning and helps the student with the issue or problem to find solutions for themselves.

In this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2IJ91A2_Oo )  David Coghlan from Trinity, College Dublin talks about action learning and how through a questioning approach students can solve problems and put learning into action.

If you would like to read more on action learning as a strategy, Pauline Joyce of the RCSI has written the use of action learning to support organisational change initiatives. See http://epubs.rcsi.ie/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=ilhmart


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Collegiality on the Twitter backchannel

Last week, I read the Thesis Whisperer’s latest post authored by Dr Alexandra Hogan about how to make the most from conferences. Her advice was useful for those attending academic conferences

Conferences are great opportunities to hear scholars in your area of interest, they provide opportunities for valuable face-to-face meetings, and the opportunity to ask others about their research. Conference presenters love questions about their work and research, they get a kick out of knowing that their work is making a difference to others. Moreover, conferences can trigger valuable conversations and participation in research networks.

Just this morning the annual ILTA Edtech Conference got underway  I can’t attend this year but I’m following the conference Twitterstream with envy. Twitter and other forms of social media amplify and extend the energy and critical conversations of a conference.

Lorna Campbell has presented about the amplification of academic events using social media and certainly, at  there is evidence of the messages of presenters reaching a far greater online audience than just those in the physical venue. Thanks to those tweeting Edtechers today, it was great to be in touch with proceedings from afar.

But returning to Alexandra’s points in the Thesiswhisperer post,  attendance at conferences provide opportunities to talk in more depth with other researchers and to extend networks.  Furthermore,  the online conference space is powerful for amplification of conference ideas also.   Participating or peripherally participating on social media platforms such as the Twitter conference backchannel can be beneficial in disseminating conference proceedings, establishing connections with other scholars and starting conversations.

Tips for Tweeting on the backchannel

Some advice from Alexandra’s post can also be related to the conference backchannel on Twitter:

If someone gives a great talk – let them know.However, if you just say to someone ‘I really enjoyed your talk’, they will say ‘oh, thank you’, and the conversation can stall. Instead, link your compliment to your own research.

Similarly, this advice can also be taken on board for the Twitter backchannel: Give compliments but provide reasons why the presentation or research resonated with you, ask questions of others via the backchannel. Remember, the backchannel is an opportunity to extend conference participation, Ask open questions, start conversations.

Be mindful of others on the backchannel

However, we need to bear in mind that presenting a paper is scary enough for most academics and negative tweets may be perceived as trolling.  Therefore, it is necessary to be carefully collegial in comments and questions on the backchannel. That way we build capacity, confidence, and critical thinking in the online space of the conference,  which might contribute to the initiation of trusting relationships and future collaborations.

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Whole class feedback via screencast

I have been teaching an assessment and feedback module for lecturers and those who support teaching in DCU this semester. When planning for the module I spoke to DCU students about their experiences of assessment and feedback. The students highlighted that they wanted clarity and consistency in assessment criteria and they wanted timely feedback. Some of the students described how their lecturers showed them what an example assignment looked like. This reminded of what John Hattie talks about in showing the students what success looks like.

I also met with the lecturers, the upcoming participants of the module, before it commenced to explore the challenges they faced with assessment and feedback in their teaching, to see what I could do to help solve their problems in practice. Interestingly, comments from the lecturers resonated with Bloxham and Boyd (2007), they criticised students as being grade oriented, failing to take account of the feedback. Undeniably, students not interested or valuing feedback is a hot topic among educational researchers right now. Indeed Carless (2015) claims that unless feedback is acted upon it has no real value. Moreover Naomi Winstone and Chris Nash and have highlighted how learners need to be supported in valuing feedback and acting upon it. This has resulted in The Developing Engagement with Feedback Toolkit (DEFT) .

More recently, until 2016, I was a student studying an Educational Doctorate. At the beginning of the programme we had some essay assignments to enhance our writing practices. Looking back these were formative learning activities with in-depth feedback given by reviewers.BUT, I also got a mark for my performance, and every time I got the feedback I looked the numerical result first and breathed a sigh of relief. I admit now that I was also a grade-oriented student. In thinking about this I consider myself as conditioned by the system to primarily seek a grade as a way of benchmarking my own capability in comparison to others. While I didn’t ignore the formative feedback, I think reflection is necessary about our own attitudes and behaviours as educators towards marks and feedback.

But, coming back to the purpose of this post: feedback approaches supported with technology, namely audio and screencast feedback. In earlier teaching practices I used podcasts to provide feedback on student draft work. At the time I didn’t evaluate the audio feedback approach, but I received positive comments from students saying it was good to hear my voice and that it helped them interpret the feedback more easily.

Recent literature found that a range of feedback techniques (written, audio and video) enabled students to get a stronger insight into academic performance (McCarthy, 2015) and that the use of audio feedback can facilitate a more personal and authentic connection between teaching staff and learners (Dixon, 2015).

While I have created audio feedback for a number of years I thought it was time to diversify and bring in a novel approach. The Y1feedback project offers rich insights into the feedback practice of lecturers in Irish higher education institutions. Indeed Corcoran (2017) and Rodgers (2017) both advocate screencasting as a means to provide generic whole class feedback as a timely follow-up to an assignment. Cranny (2017) citing Mayer and Moreno (2003) indicates that screencasting combines the two major senses visual and auditory input and this can be beneficial for meaning. Cranny (2016) also asserts that using audio visual feedback can help mitigate against potential ambiguity that may occur with traditional written feedback.

The approach I used

Keeping in mind the approaches of Cranny (2017), Rodgers (2017) and Corcoran (2017) I designed an audio-visual screencast to highlight 3 mains issues arising within student assignments. While there were more than 3 potential issues to give feedback on, my colleague Clare Gormley reminded me that 3 key takeaways could help student engagement with the feedback.

So the process of generic whole-class feedback via screencast involved

  • Gathering 3 key feedback points
  • Creating a PowerPoint presentation
  • Using QuickTime player to record the screencast
  • Uploading to YouTube as an unlisted video and sharing the link with all students.

And there we have it – a screen cast of feedback highlighted 3 key points for the students to focus on in their further work on the module.

Watch it here and please pose comments on how this might be improved, or what you do in your practices


Bloxham, S. and Boyd, P. 2007. Developing effective assessment in higher education. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Corcoran, M. 2017. General Feedback on Exam Performance. IN: Technology-Enabled Feedback Approaches for First-Year: Y1Feedback Case Studies in Practice: Y1Feedback. Available from: https://www. y1feedback.ie

Cranny, D. 2016. Screencasting, a tool to facilitate engagement with formative feedback? AISHE-J. The All Ireland Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 8 (3), pp. 2911-2927.

Dixon, S. (2015) The pastoral potential of audio feedback: a review of the literature, Pastoral Care in Education, 33:2, 96-104

Mayer, R. E., and Moreno, R. 2003. Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational psychologist. 38 (1), pp. 43-52.

McCarthy, J. (2015) Evaluating written, audio and video feedback in higher education summative assessment tasks Issues in Educational Research, 25(2).

Rodgers, J. 2017. Screencasting for Enhanced and Manageable Large Group Feedback in Language Learning. IN: Technology-Enabled Feedback Approaches for First-Year: Y1Feedback Case Studies in Practice: Y1Feedback. Available from: https://www.y1feedback.ie

Y1Feedback 2016. Technology-Enabled Feedback in the First Year: A Synthesis of the Literature. Available from: y1feedback.ie


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#OER17 Here I come

Just under 2 weeks to #OER17 in London and I’m revisiting my abstract,  preparing my presentation and reviewing the conference programme. I’ve also been invited to participate in a Plenary Panel with @catherinecronin and @Czernie,  this is a really exciting opportunity as I feel more than ever before I will need to keep my critical eyes peeled at the conference. With Laura and Catherine, I hope to sum up, explain, and ask more questions relating to this burgeoning research field.
Overall I am really looking forward to hearing the findings of other researchers in the area of Openness and Learning. I will be interested to hear if their findings resonate,  challenge or extend upon my findings from my EdD study on Twitter for professional learning

Also and importantly I am really eager to meet many of the people involved in OER research in person. In researching and writing my thesis I drew on their work, I wrote their research into my thesis. #OER17 is a chance to meet many of the researchers and thinkers in this area. Perhaps some of you are reading this: I want to thank you for extending my thinking and bringing me to new understanding of learning, education, open learning, and professional learning. While the virtual space has introduced me to many researchers and informed my thinking I  value the opportunity to meet face-to-face.

I took a hiatus from my research findings for a while (went on holiday, got the flu, teaching demands, and general life!), but it’s good to revisit them now. Recovery from the EdD marathon has taken longer than expected…and it’s still ongoing. Here is my abstract:

Twitter: an open opportunity or a perilous public?

Twitter has become embedded in various conversations relating to research, learning, and innovation in higher education. Emerging research alludes to the benefits of Twitter for developing networks and dissemination of research and other scholarly activities, but few studies report on the real experiences and complexities of participating in open online spaces.

This study draws on the responses of seven higher education professionals working in various teaching and teaching support roles in higher education. Individual case studies illustrated participants’ use of Twitter for professional learning. Cross-case analysis was used to highlight similarities and differences among cases. Application of the Visitor and Resident typology (White & Le Cornu, 2011) to the cases highlighted a spectrum of participation on Twitter (O’Keeffe, 2016).

Findings demonstrated that activities of participants on Twitter were beneficial for professional knowledge and practices. However despite advocating social learning, some participants did not use Twitter for social networking. A number of inhibiting factors regarding their use of Twitter were revealed. Participants, considered Visitors (White & Le Cornu, 2011) chose not to engage or pursue conversations on Twitter, thus preventing networking with other professional tweeters. On the other hand, Resident participants, engaged in social conversations, voiced opinions on academic matters and used Twitter to provoke and prompt responses about various academic topics.

This study uncovered diverse modes of participation on Twitter while uncovering reasons for these modes of participation, thus presenting new contributions to the emerging literature base in this area. Although all participants of this study advocated the use of Twitter for professional learning, the data showed that participants did not use Twitter the same way. Different approaches were taken, with some participants choosing a passive approach, following other tweeters and reading information, while other participants engaged more readily in social networking activities on Twitter. Consequently this study calls into question the widely accepted notion that Twitter inherently enables social learning and thus enables professional learning (Hart, 2015).

Wenger (1998) proposes that learning occurs in relationships between people and that mutually negotiated activities contribute to identity construction. However, in this study, Visitor participants peripherally participated on Twitter choosing not to establish presence and network with other professionals, thus participants excluded themselves from Twitter activities and discussions “creating an identity of non-participation that progressively marginalised them” (Wenger, 1998, p. 203). This presentation will highlight the political, affective and social barriers that prevented social presence and participation in open online spaces such as Twitter thus raising questions about the inclusive and truly social nature of public online spaces.

Hart, J. (2015). Twitter for Learning: The Past, Present and Future. Retrieved from Learning in the Social Workplace: http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/2015/03/31/twitter-for-learning-the- past- present-and-future/

O’ Keeffe, M. (2016) Exploring higher education professionals’ use of Twitter for learning. Irish Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning. 2(1). http://journal.ilta.ie/index.php/telji/article/view/11/20

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3171/3049


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Giving feedback on writing: some questions to ask

Today I’ve been giving feedback on various forms of writing: extracts from a teaching portfolio, a journal article, and the first 2 chapters of a Masters thesis. While there are criteria that I check each of these pieces of writing against, I thought these questions that I came by from my colleague Dr Pip Ferguson, (I’m not sure of the original author… if anyone recognises the original source please let me know). Nonetheless, I found these questions really helpful in giving feedback on writing so I’m publishing them here online for others and for my own future reference. Writers, supervisors, and reviewers might find them useful.

Step 1: Before reading the draft, ask the author

  • Where are you at now with this work, and what do you need the most help with?
  • Why did you pick this topic or question in the first place?
  • What do you most want people to remember after reading your work?
  • What is the most interesting thing you’ve found out so far?
  • What is the most challenging aspect of writing this paper right now?

Step 2: While reading the draft, ask yourself

  • Who is the apparent target audience?
  • What is the knowledge gap? (Relevance)
  • What is the research question?
  • What is the main claim (thesis statement)? (try defining each part)
  • What evidence have they produced (findings)?
  • What is the method or analytical framework?
  • What role does theory play in this work? (Is author primarily contributing to theoretical development, or using existing theory to interpret data?)
  • Which terms need to be defined or operationalized?
  • What do you, the reader, find most interesting about the draft?
  • What do you, the reader, expect to be most problematic for the author?
  • Titles and headings: Do they fairly represent the content?
  • Tables and figures: Read them out loud

Step 3: Meet with the author

Go through questions above with the author, and listen to how they explain the work. Look for differences between what the author says and what you thought when you read the work. (For examples, was your understanding of the underlying research question the same as the author’s?). Discuss these differences, or any other questions you had as a reader.

Step 4: plan next step

Ask author what they intend to do to follow up. Have the author write it down.

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