From tomorrow, Wednesday August 28, I will be moving from my current role as Technology Enhanced Learning Manager, Graduate & Professional Studies, to take up my new appointment as University of Limerick (UL) Project Lead for the Irish Universities Association (IUA) Enhancing Digital Capacity in Teaching and Learning in Irish Universities project, or Enhancing Digital Teaching & Learning for short – #IUADigEd.
This project is funded under the Higher Education Authority’s Innovation and Transformation fund 2018. The role is a specific purpose contract for 2 and a half years and is based locally in the Centre for Teaching & Learning.
Each of the 7 Irish Universities will appoint or already have appointed a similar role, based locally within their respective Teaching & Learning Centres, whom I endeavour to work closely with. The project will be spearheaded from the IUA Office in Dublin under the stewardship of Project Manager, Dr Sharon Flynn (twitter, medium).
This project sees the coming together of 3 major national level partners in the higher education landscape in Ireland – the Higher Education Authority, the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and the Irish Universities Association.
It’s a nationally driven project that will be operationalised within each of the 7 Irish Universities through the institutional Project Leads and their institutional networks of learning technologists, academic developers, instructional designers, etc., which aims to consolidate, further enhance and make sustainable what has already been achieved to date with regard to building sectoral digital capacity. At the national level, as the project progresses, a network of networks will continue to emerge.
Across and within the 7 Irish Universities, this project seeks to mainstream the appropriate, competent and confident use of digital technologies in order to achieve pedagogical aims, by addressing the professional development of all who teach and support teaching & learning related activities. The underlying approach is pedagogy first, taking advantage of the affordances of available technologies to support this approach. The focus of the project centres on students’ digital experiences.
In Ireland, substantial work has been carried out already over the past few years within the realm of building sectoral digital capacity, particularly through the work of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning and its associated projects. The #IUADigEd project recognises this fantastic work and the significant progress that has been made to date in this regard and aims to further build on this through a co-ordinated and collaborative approach across the University sector.
The #IUADigEd project completely aligns with the 4 strategic priorities set out in the National Forum’s Strategy 2019-2021, Leading Enhancement and Innovation in Teaching and Learning, namely
- Student Success – and three strategically important ways to achieve that are,
- The Professional Development of All Those Who Teach,
- Teaching and Learning in a Digital World,
- Teaching and Learning Enhancement Within and Across Disciplines.
The core objectives of the IUA’s Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning (#IUADigEd) project are student focussed and seek to
- enhance the digital attributes of all Irish university graduates, and to
- enhance the educational experiences of all Irish university students through the mainstreamed and integrated use of digital technologies, including social media where appropriate, as part of the teaching and learning process.
To achieve these objectives, an important foundational third objective will also be necessary
- to enhance the digital skills of those who teach in Irish universities.
Beyond digital skills enhancement even, the goal might be to build digital competence and capacity amongst those who teach in Irish Universities, as well as our students. Rightly or wrongly, I view a skill as having the ability to do something. Competency, then, showcases the degree to which a skill, or skills, can be performed proficiently or well. Of course, performing something well can be seen to be a subjective indicator – what’s good for one person mightn’t necessarily fall into that same defined category for another.
A possible framework to hang project activities from
The European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators (DigCompEdu) provides a very useful framework that puts pedagogy first, distinguishing 6 areas in which educators’ Digital Competence is expressed with a total of 22 competencies. Likely, the institutional and national-level professional development activities developed from this project, will be mapped to this framework.
Running a Pilot
In terms of a unit of change, there is some evidence from the National Forum that suggests engagement at the disciplinary level, or with a programme team (both intra- and inter-institutionally), appears to be a good way to try to achieve sustainable and meaningful change. So, rather than only working with individual technology champions randomly dispersed on-campus, the needs and goals of an entire disciplinary group can be identified and addressed, thereby impacting their competence, confidence and capacity with digital technologies. For example, the pedagogical needs of a discipline group that I would hope to work with might revolve around something like:
- digital assessment and feedback
- activities to enhance students’ digital skills and competencies in line with graduate attributes
- supporting collaborative and peer learning activities
- supporting discourse digitally
- supporting active learning in the classroom using a flipped approach
- increasing awareness of OEP, and OER curation and adaptation, etc.
Pilot projects will be carried out in each institution based on existing expertise and the on-the-ground resources and personnel at their disposal, the strategic mission and goals of the specific institution, the discipline(s) expressing interest in being involved, and their own specific needs. All project activities will intend to support their digital innovation and change.
Towards a Professional Development Programme for Digital Capacity
An anticipated outcome of this project is the development of a national professional development programme for digital capacity that may consist of
- A framework for digital competencies, based on the DigCompEdu framework, mapped to the National Digital Experience surveys for staff and students, the National Professional Development Framework for all who teach in higher education in Ireland, the DELTA awards scheme, and providing a structure for professional development activities related to digital capacity across the sector.
- A connected and growing community of staff developers (educational technologists, learning technologists, academic staff developers, instructional designers) working within and between the universities to support academic skill development, and sharing expertise, knowledge and resources.
- A collection of resources, micro-credentials and modules that can be combined in a flexible way to build tailored PD programmes aligned to the framework. All outputs will be open and shared through appropriate existing collections, e.g. the NF PD open courses, the All Aboard framework, betterlecturers.ie.
I’m excited about this new role and the challenges that lay ahead for me, both within UL and nationally, as one individual ‘node’ in this emergent network of networks.