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Faculty of Science & Health

Current Teaching & Learning Projects & Publications


Two students holding an iPadAcademics within the Faculty of Science and Health have consistently shown a commitment to developing innovative approaches to teaching. In every single school there are staff who use emerging techniques like enquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, flipped classrooms, blended learning and many others.

Furthermore, a wide variety of approaches to assessment are employed, from end-of-semester examinations to numerous forms of continuous assessment. These include more traditional methods like take-homes tests and in-class tests, to poster and oral presentations based on project work, to group-based assessments.

In all schools there is an ongoing commitment to providing students with the opportunity to undertake high-quality undergraduate research through final year projects. As a result, significant numbers of our undergraduates are named authors on publications in international journals. The quality of this research experience is further evidenced by the success of our students in the Undergraduate Awards, including Chloe Harvey who was a winner in the Mathematics and Physics category in 2015.

DCU's Teaching and Enhancement unit also supports the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning by assisting programmatic teams and individual staff who wish to conduct research into their teaching. The projects listed below are just a small sample of the many T&L projects and initiatives that are ongoing in the faculty. 


Project: Arts-based pedagogy as a means of fostering creative and critical thinking 


People:          Dr. Briege Casey, School of Nursing and Human Sciences


For students in contemporary nurse education, learning is a complex yet taken-for-granted process. Student nurses are encouraged to adopt traditional, unquestioned perspectives and practices while simultaneously encountering and engaging with the multiplicity of cognitive and emotional stimuli inherent in modern day nursing contexts.  Thus, students need to be able to think creatively and critically and to develop more pluralistic ways of noticing, interpreting and understanding their dynamic environments. Many researchers claim that arts-based approaches in education offer ways of calling forth inner creative forces and developing possibilities for new or different ways of constructing experience and knowledge. Encouraged by the possibilities of these ways of reflection and inquiry, I developed and now facilitate an option module in Nursing Humanities in the undergraduate nursing curriculum.  In this module of study students are involved in two complimentary activities:


•   Group discussion and interpretation of art/ literature focusing on human experiences and themes of interest to nursing

•   Arts-based student workshops involving participation in creative writing, art-marking, digital media, dance and drama as a means of exploring healthcare themes

                                Anatomical model of hand and human hand

The capacities of arts-based inquiry as a transformative pedagogy, as a means of exploring and dialoguing complex experiences and perceptions and as a method of fostering creative and critical thinking were explored through the following research study:




For further information contact Dr Briege Casey (briege.casey@dcu.ie)


Project: Using online tools for teaching chemical engineering


People:        Dr. Greg Foley, School of Biotechnology


The use of readily available computational tools, including the free online resource, WolframAlpha, is changing the nature of chemical engineering calculations. Trial and error solutions are largely obsolete as are many of the elegant and ingenuous graphical techniques that still adorn many of the classic chemical engineering textbooks. Greg Foley’s research aims to develop a new approach to teaching chemical engineering computation by making use of tools like WolframAlpha, tools that can produce answers in both symbolic and numerical form.

Over the last few years he has re-examined a range of classic chemical engineering calculations and recast them in a form suitable for solution with both WolframAlpha and also Microsoft’s Excel. This frees up time to focus on basic principles rather than tedious calculations and, as an added benefit, provides students with the opportunity to learn about some atypical but useful mathematical functions that they might not have encountered before.


  1. G. Foley (2016). Class and Homework Problems: The Lambert W function in ultrafiltration and diafiltration. Chemical Engineering Education (In Press).
  2. G. Foley (2014) Class and Homework Problems: The break-even radius of insulation computed using Excel Solver and WolframAlpha. Chemical Engineering Education, 48(3), 185-188.
  3. G. Foley (2013). Membrane Filtration: A problem-solving approach with MATLAB, Cambridge University Press
  4. G. Foley* (2011) Three classic ultrafiltration problems solved with the Exponential Integral. Education for Chemical Engineers 6, 90-96.
  5. G. Foley (2011) Solution of non-linear algebraic equations in the analysis, design and optimization of continuous ultrafiltration. Chem. Eng. Education. 45(1), 59-64, 2011.



Project: Transforming education and lived experience 


People:          Dr. Liam MacGabhann, School of Nursing and Human Sciences


Transforming Education & Lived Experience (TELE) is an emancipatory approach to facilitating learning and development adopted by a number of lecturers in the School of Nursing & Human Sciences along with collaborating organisations and communities. Details on this initiative can be found at the link below:





Project: Informatics in nurse education in the Faculty of Science & Health 


People:        Dr. Pamela Hussey, School of Nursing and Human Sciences

The School of Nursing and Human Sciences (SNHS) in DCU has a strong background in nursing informatics, health systems research and development of information infrastructure to support nursing practice and improve patient outcomes 1-6  . Integral to this agenda is a robust pedagogical framework to optimise knowledge transfer and develop informatics competencies with our students. We believe that Informatics skills are key for the profession in role design, service implementation and in the operation of next generation health and social care delivery.


In 2015 the fourth edition of An Introduction to Nursing Informatics was published as an eBook and Dr Pamela Hussey in collaboration with co-editors from Canada and the United States in this new edition provided a framework within the text for online education and training. Figure one provides an overview of learning activities that each chapter uses to demonstrate learning styles. Each chapter includes an education template with exercises and activities for students to engage with as part of their personal online learning experience. 


A dedicated website was also created to introduce the text and act as demonstrator with examples of how the online resources are integrated within the revised and new edition.  Further information on this initiative can be accessed at


while the core text Introduction to Nursing Informatics 2015 version is available in DCU library catalogue as an ebook and in paper format at



  1. Hussey P., Kennedy M.A. (2014) Introduction to Nursing Informatics. In HANNAH K., HUSSEY P., KENNEDY M.A., & BALL M. (eds.) An Introduction to Nursing Informatics. 4th Ed. London: Springer
  2. Hussey P., and Rodger D. (2014) Nursing roles and interagency communication demonstrating requirements for future models of care. Health Informatics Society of Ireland Nursing and Midwifery Report ISBN 978-1-873769-26-3 Available from: http://doras.dcu.ie/view/people/Hussey,_Pamela.html (accessed 29th January 2015).
  3. Hussey P. (2013) Nursing and Midwifery in Ireland in the 21st Century. World of Irish Nursing, March 2013 Volume 21
  4. Matthews A. Haas D. O' Mathuna D. Dowswell T. (2015) Interventions for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy (Intervention review update). COCHRANE DATABASE OF SYSTEMATIC REVIEWS, 9,
  5. Scott PA. Matthews A. Kirwan M. (2014). What is nursing in the 21st Century and what does the 21st Century health system require of nursing? NURSING PHILOSOPHY, 15, 1, pp23-34.
  6. Hussey P. Adams E. Shaffer, FA. (2015) Nursing Informatics and Leadership, an Essential Competency for a Global Priority: eHealth Nurse Leader Vol 13, Issue 5 pp 52-57



Project: Research based teaching in the School of Physical Sciences 


People:        Staff in School of Physical Sciences

Academics and postgraduate students working in the School of Physics and CASTeL have developed a number of modules based on physics education research:


  • In second year all physics students take the module PS202, Electromagnetism, which comprises just one introductory lecture followed by small-group tutorials designed to help students understand both the physics and the mathematical techniques required through collaborative learning.  The tutorials consist of carefully crafted sequences of questions that engender fruitful discussions and optimize learning. They are constantly being updated as research on the teaching and learning of the students taking the module progresses.  In third year they encounter the module MS225, Differential Equations, which is being reorganized as a result of research in progress carried out jointly in the Schools of Mathematics and Physics under the CASTeL umbrella.
  • Students in the Schools of Biotechnology and Chemical Sciences take the year-long module PS153, Physics Laboratories for General Science, where they learn about physics concepts through experimentation, mostly in a cycle of predict-observe-explain, and hone generic skills such as communicating results. Most of these also take CS150, Interdisciplinary Science, a module developed in tandem with the School of Chemical Sciences.
  • Science Education students who choose the physics option take PS202, PS153, and a number of modules that develop pedagogical content knowledge: knowing both what to teach and how to teach it effectively. The contents of these modules, PS255, PS322, PS457, are informed by European projects such as ESTABLISH and SAILS as well as collaborations with second level teachers.


Professional Development


  • All physics students also take a range of professional development activities, which are included in relevant modules throughout their degrees and which complement those modules and are aligned with the DCU Generation 21 underpinning skills and competencies. These activities include CV preparation, interview skills, presentation and writing skills, literature searching and library skills, as well as risk assessment and safety.



Project: Using a blog as a tool for reflective learning in nurse education 


People:          Dr. Siobhan McDermott, School of Nursing and Human Sciences

With the recent rapid developments in technology and the web there has been a shift in the culture of education delivery. Modes of communication have radically changed over the last number of years and nurse educators need to uncover who their learners are and how they prefer to communicate. The recent body of knowledge suggests that integrating Web 2.0 technologies into learning resources increases student retention (Abate et al 2011) and helps them become lifelong and self-regulated learners (Zimmerman & Tsikalas 2005). These new teaching and learning developments have the potential to facilitate a social constructivist model of learning through a collaborative and student-created approach (Alexander 2006). Weblogs, (known as blogs) first adopted by John Barger in 1997, have evolved as a personal web space for various purposes including group weblogs. Blogs have become a new and captivating form of communication and personal expression for a growing proportion of the population with young adults and college students being among the highest users. In the US Lenhart & Madden (2005) found that as many as four million college students maintain a blog or disclose personal information on other blog sites. Kumar et al (2004) study of the profile of 1.3 million bloggers found that 75% were between the ages of 16 and 24 years which fits with the specific age range of the majority of student nurses.

This study describes how blogging was introduced as a tool in a module on an undergraduate nursing programme in the Republic of Ireland. The module was an 8 week module delivered to 4th year nursing students on interculturalism. The aim of introducing blogging into the module was twofold: to introduce students to alternative learning resources and to motivate and encourage students to engage with the content of the module. Cameron and Anderson (2005) acknowledge the motivational value of personal ownership and customisation afforded by blogs. Students had ownership of the design of the personal space of the blog. A further aim of introducing this technology was that the taught content of the module would act as the launch pad towards the students self-directed learning on interculturalism. Issues of concern included lack of student engagement with the blog. Therefore students were required to complete weekly individual blog entries, including comments on peers’ blogs. The blogs were to reflect on issues in relation to interculturalism that arose throughout the module. In addition students were required to reflect on clinical practice in which they care for a child/family within the healthcare setting from a different culture to their own, within their blog. They were asked to identify the challenges that arose and discuss how they met these, with appropriate reference to the literature.

This report describes the experiences of student nurses using a blog to support their learning. Results of an evaluation tool completed by students following the module will be presented. The use of blogging fits well with nurse education. Reflection and reflective practice is promoted in nursing education as a tool for decision making in healthcare. Nursing students are often required to write reflective assignments and the use of blogs should support this often difficult technique.



Project: Attendance at lectures: A challenge for nurse education 


People: Therese Leufer and Joanne Cleary-Holdforth, School of Nursing & Human Sciences

Poor attendance at lectures by students is an enduring challenge for educators. This is particularly pertinent to nurse educators located within the higher education sector, who are committed to the ideals of university ethos of adult learning but who are also bound by the requirements and standards of a professional regulating body. This body demands the preparation of nurses who are competent, safe practitioners upon completion of their programme and to this end requires that students receive a stipulated minimum number of hours of both clinical hospital learning and theoretical instruction. This is particularly challenging when students do not attend lectures. Student attendance in the clinical hospital setting is mandatory and closely monitored. However, only a few elements of theoretical instruction are mandatory within the university setting and attendance is problematic. A clear dilemma arises, as a consequence, for nurse educators whose main aim is to ensure that nurses deliver care of the highest standard and that patient safety is upheld. Advice from regulatory bodies on the issue of poor attendance at theoretical components offers little in the way of clear, definitive guidance on how to manage the issue, thus compounding the problem for nurse educators.


We therefore undertook a mixed methods study to (1) determine, from the students’ perspective, the factors influencing both attendance and non-attendance at lectures on an undergraduate nursing programme and (2) to ascertain potential strategies that could maximise student engagement in the learning process, which can inform local policies and procedures going forward. Preliminary analysis revealed that factors influencing both absenteeism and attendance are multiple and diverse, echoing findings in contemporary literature on the area. However, some of these factors are quite startling and concerning.  Combining student life with other life commitments emerges as a considerable challenge for students. This in turn, presents challenges for nurse educators that cannot be ignored. More in-depth analysis of the collected data is on-going and will be disseminated in due course.



Leufer & Cleary-Holdforth (2010) Reflections on the Experience of Mandating Lecture Attendance in One School of Nursing in the Republic of Ireland.  AISHE-J, Vol 2, No. 1, which can be found at;



Contact: Therese Leufer [therese.leufer@dcu.ie] and Joanne Cleary-Holdforth [joanne.cleary-holdforth@dcu.ie].


Project: The Scape Study

People: Dr. Mary Rose Sweeney, School of Nursing and Human Sciences

The School of Nursing and Human Sciences at Dublin City University is a leading provider of nurse education across four disciplinary areas; general nursing, children’s nursing, intellectual disability nursing and mental health nursing. The Scape Study, a national evaluation of clinical nurse and midwife roles in Ireland recommended the need to develop further research capacity and capability amongst nurses and midwifes. However little is currently know about the research skills, level of training, access to research supports or the research needs of these groups.

The project team, led by Dr. Mary Rose Sweeney received seed funding in phase 1 of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education  call to explore the research activities, skills and needs of nurses and midwifes in Ireland. Nursing leadership and educators within the Higher Educational Institutions also informed the study, in the recognition that strategic efforts are required to develop research competencies in these professions. As part of the seed funding obtained in phase 1 of this call, a comprehensive questionnaire has been developed to explore the research skills, training, activities, supports, facilities and capabilities of nurses and midwifes in practice across all grades and across a range of settings including public health, general hospitals, mental health services, intellectual disabilities, services, paediatrics and midwifes services in hospital and community settings.  The attitudes of nurses/midwifes to research and the value they place on it will also be explored. This questionnaire has already been administered to over 400 nurses in the HSE mid-western region.  Semi-structured interviews have also been conducted with nursing and midwifery managers, nursing and midwifery educationalists and nursing and midwifery topic specific librarians.

The data will be used to help us understand the gaps in educational provision and to help us identify areas for curriculum development in the School in DCU, to facilitate nurses and midwifes to build and improve their research capabilities and profiles.  A longer term objective of the project is the development of an open access online resource for nursing and midwifes to evidence base and inform their practice. This resource would facilitate;

  • Learning (online lessons, podcasts, videos, quizzes including personalised feedback)
  • Sourcing – research findings, policy documents, funding opportunities and conferences)
  • Networking (building communities of practice enabling peer learning).

The content will be suitable for use on mobile platforms to enable anytime learning. This project is for nurses by nurses to benefit society. 


Project: Irish engineering graduates advancing global manufacturing: Design simulation for the process industries

People:          Dr. Brian Freeland, Dr. Greg Foley, Dr. Jenny Lawler, School of Biotechnology

This project, funded through the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund of the national Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, commenced in February 2016 and aims to develop virtual learning environments (VLEs) for remote teaching of basic and applied aspects of bioreactor operation and control. The School of Biotechnology has a long track record of teaching bioreaction engineering at pilot scale, something that is unique in Ireland and rare internationally. Its unique mix of engineers and biologists (academic and technical) makes it the ideal location for developing digital tools that will allow students from other institutions to experience a simulated version of what we do routinely with our own students.

Using simulations, students will gain experience in the operation and control of modern bioreactors and will also develop skills in real-time problem-solving and process trouble-shooting. They will also gain practical experience in the use of state-of-the-art simulation software, including industry standards like LabVIEW and DynoChem.


Project: Investigating students' difficulties with differential equations in Physics 

People: Mr Diarmaid Hyland (CASTeL, School of Mathematical Sciences & School of Physical Sciences), Dr Brien Nolan (CASTeL & School of Mathematical Sciences), Dr Paul van Kampen (CASTeL & School of Physical Sciences) and Prof Turlough Downes (School of Mathematical Sciences)

There are numerous cases in physics where the value of a quantity and the rate of change of that quantity are related. For example, the rate of decay of a sample of radioactive material is proportional to the amount of material present. Except in highly idealized settings, the analysis of these cases requires students to recognize, set up, and solve a differential equation. In many universities, including DCU, differential equations are studied in mathematics before they are applied in physics. However, the aims of mathematicians and physicists can be very different, leading to different emphases in instruction and consequently, difficulties for students in applying mathematical knowledge of differential equations in the physics setting. Other potential reasons why such equations present a problem for physics students include gaps in students’ mathematical knowledge, conceptual issues with differential equations, and transfer issues (problems with applying knowledge learned in one context or setting to another).

In this design research project (funded by the Irish Research Council and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education), we are studying students’ difficulties with differential equations in physics, and developing curriculum that seeks to resolve them. We are applying ideas from Mathematics Education research, in particular proceptual theories of mathematical learning, to the design of tutorials aimed at supporting students’ learning of differential equations and their transfer to physics settings. These tutorials form part of the module MS225 – Introduction to Differential Equations, in which a new emphasis is being placed on the practice of modelling scientific phenomena with differential equations. The tutorials incorporate opportunities for students to analyse and rationalise (in a physics setting) the mathematical algorithms that form a core part of introductory courses on differential equations. 



Using generic feedback to support the transition to advanced mathematical thinking 


People: Dr Brien Nolan (CASTeL & School of Mathematical Sciences)

For mathematics students, the transition from secondary to tertiary education is marked by the transition to advanced mathematical thinking: precise mathematical definitions and formal deductive reasoning come to the fore. This presents students with a range of difficulties to be overcome: The concepts encountered are frequently more abstract than those studied previously, and students are required to place previously encountered knowledge into a formal framework. The emphasis is on the construction of proofs rather than calculations and algorithmic procedures. In particular, knowing how to begin a proof causes major problems. There is a frequent conflict between each individual student’s concept image (a loose collection of ideas about what a particular mathematical concept means) and the corresponding concept definition (the formal definition of that concept). The provision of feedback on students’ own work plays a key role in helping students to make the transition to advanced mathematical thinking. In order to strike a balance between the need to provide such feedback and the time-consuming nature of making this provision, an approach that uses generic feedback was introduced in the module MS111 - Mathematical Concepts and Skills in the academic year 2015-16. This intensive 5-credit first year module runs for the first six weeks of semester one. It uses a combination of workshops, tutorials and lectures to help students to develop understanding and skills in relation to fundamental mathematical concepts and processes. Students hand up homework each week: this is returned the same week using comment-only grading. That is, students do not (initially) receive a mark for their homework, but receive feedback on where improvement is needed and on where correct reasoning has been used.  

This feedback is provided in a collective manner. While marking homework assignments, each time a new feedback comment is composed by the grader (e.g. “The symbols Þ and Û are used to connect statements: do not use them as substitutes for an equals sign”), it is recorded separately and assigned an identification number. When this comment is relevant, the id number is recorded at the appropriate point on the different students’ homework scripts. The full list of numbered comments is published on Loop prior to the students’ work being returned to them. They then consult the list on Loop to decode the numbers on their homework scripts and so obtain the feedback relevant to their work. The comments returned to each individual student are also recorded on a spreadsheet. The list of feedback comments expanded week-by-week, yielding a list of 39 different feedback comments by the end of the six weeks.

Data from Loop and counts of the number of occurrences and recurrences of feedback comments are being analysed to provide insight into the students’ engagement with this process. But initial analysis shows (for example) a decline over the course of the six weeks in the number of uses by the grader of the comment “There is a logical connection either missing or incorrect. What is the connection between the successive lines in your work?” Thus the cohort of students as a whole showed an improvement in the important mathematical practice of providing an explicit rationale for each step of a mathematical argument.

Having established a proof of concept for providing feedback in this way, we aim to research the outcomes of the approach by gathering a variety of data (including feedback from students) in the next delivery of the module in 2016-17.


Project: Problem solving and assessment for learning in Euclidean geometry 


People: Dr Brien Nolan (CASTeL & School of Mathematical Sciences)

How do we promote teaching for understanding and move away from the prevalence of rote learning in secondary schools? One way is to ensure that future teachers are appropriately skilled. This is a central mission of the Faculty of Science and Health in its work in initial teacher education through the BSc degrees in Science Education, PE and Mathematics, and PE and Biology. The pre-service teachers on these programmes should have the opportunity to experience as learners the type of teaching promoted in these degrees, as well as the opportunity to learn and implement the appropriate teaching knowledge and skills.

In the module MS302 – Geometry for Teachers, third year Science Education and PE and Mathematics students learn Euclidean Geometry using an approach that treats the development of proofs of elementary geometrical statements (such as the Pythagorean Theorem) as an exercise in problem solving. Using an approach that draws on ideas of the mathematician George Polya and the mathematics educator John Mason, students learn heuristic problem-solving methods that focus on filtering and leveraging available knowledge to construct proofs.

A key part of the teaching approach is to provide students with opportunities to attempt the construction of proofs, to assess these and to provide instruction and feedback that allows them to learn from these attempts. This assessment for learning approach is enacted by using a combination of low and high-tech teaching tools: students work individually and in groups on mini-white boards. This work is reviewed in situ, with examples that provide opportunities to learn reviewed in plenary using a visualiser (digital OHP). The lecture then proceeds in a direction that depends on the learning that is visible in the work completed on the mini-white boards.

The students – pre-service teachers – thus learn a subject central to post-primary mathematics in a way that models teaching strategies that are crucial for their future careers: learning by and for problem-solving, and adopting an assessment for learning approach. 


Introducing pre-service teachers to lesson study 


People: Dr Eabhnat Ní Fhloinn (CASTeL & School of Mathematical Sciences) and Dr Brien Nolan (CASTeL & School of Mathematical Sciences)

The Teaching Council, the statutory body that oversees the teaching profession in Ireland, published in June 2011 its Policy on the Continuum of Teacher Education. In this, the key role of Continuing Professional Developed is described. For teachers, and for mathematics teachers in particular, the professional development process of Lesson Study is being strongly promoted by the NCCA as a means for in-service teachers to develop their professional practice.


Lesson Study, which has its origins in Japan, aims at improving teaching while emphasizing collaboration and reflection. The key features of Lesson Study are investigation, planning, teaching, observation, and reflection. A group of teachers comes together and identifies learning goals – both for their students and themselves. They collectively develop a lesson, informed by their own knowledge and experience, but often with the input of an expert teacher or researcher. The research lesson is delivered by a subset of the group of teachers, and is observed by the others. The group then reconvenes to reflect on the lesson, and uses the different perspectives of those teaching and those observing to improve the lesson. The group then re-enters the cycle, with a view to improving the lesson and the associated teaching. Active reflection on the process is a key element of Lesson Study. Teachers are asked to develop their noticing skills not just in relation to live teaching, and how critical incidents can influence the course of a lesson, but also in relation to their planning for teaching.


Given the emergence of Lesson Study as a key paradigm for professional development in teaching, a new module MS351 – Introduction to Lesson Study has been introduced in 2015-16 to the third year of the BSc in Science Education. The students – pre-service mathematics teachers – are assigned to groups and undertake two iterations of the Lesson Study cycle. The research lessons are delivered in local secondary schools. At the end of the module, the students present the outcomes of their work to their peers and prepare individual reflective reports on the process. From 2016-17 onwards, we plan that our students will present their work at the annual Maths Counts conference run by the NCCA, which provides a platform for teachers around the country to present the outcomes of their own Lesson Study projects.