Learning Innovation Unit, Dublin City University

Learning Innovation Unit

Teaching Reflections

Enhancing Undergraduate and Postgraduate Learning in Dublin : A Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) Update

By Jean Hughes Director of SIF programmes, OVPLI

Most of you are familiar with the Academic Framework for Innovation (AFI) project in DCU and are probably also aware that this is funded by the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF). But did you know that DCU is also involved in a range of other SIF-funded projects in collaboration with our partner Dublin-based universities and institutes of technology? The Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance (DRHEA) formed under SIF Cycle 2 to collaboratively address a range of teaching and learning issues across the Dublin region. The DRHEA includes the smallest Institute of Technology (IADT) and the largest University (UCD) in the country as well as DCU, DIT, ITB, ITT, DIT, NUIM and TCD so collaboration is challenging to say the least! However, the goal of the consortium is to recognise and collaboratively address those areas which all of the partners must address such as Bologna compliance, graduate education, increased internationalisation, flexible learning etc. Emma Johnson, SIF Administrator, provides overall project co-ordination and administration support to all DCU EOL projects. While the full suite of original projects has been curtailed due to reduced funding, significant progress is being made under the four DRHEA strands.

1. Enhancement of Undergraduate Learning (EOL) Strand

The EOL strand focuses on important undergraduate areas including academic development, flexible curriculum, research-informed learning and e-learning. Involving all eight DRHEA partners, this strand is organised under four project areas and is led by DCU. Initial activity has concentrated on completing a series of audits to establish the position of each partner with respect to a number of keys areas – accredited programmes in Teaching and Learning, e-learning, and Bologna compliance/alignment with the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). The results of these audits have been invaluable in making visible the stage of development and readiness of the partners in relation to priority projects and informing next steps.

Dublin Centre for Academic Development (DCAD)

The DCAD is the flagship initiative for this strand and aims to improve staff training and development through shared expertise, development of a professional framework and provision of fellowships. The DCAD held its inaugural symposium: Addressing Academic Professional Values: Being an Academic in a 21st Century Higher Education Institution, on November 6th, 2009 in the Helix. Other DCAD initiatives include the development of a database of pedagogic expertise and funded fellowships. See http://www.drhea.ie/dcad.php.

Jean Hughes, Director of SIF Programmes and Morag Munro, Head of LIU represent DCU on this project.

Flexible Curriculum

All HEIs are expected to be Bologna-compliant by 2010. As each institution is at a different stage in this process, the Flexible Curriculum project led by DCU enables partners to share expertise, compare approaches and learn from others’ experiences. However, longer term and beyond initial compliance, the Alliance provides a mechanism to collectively address issues such as how to develop disciplinary learning outcomes, how to reconcile tensions between the learning outcomes paradigm and traditional grading systems, how to utilise learning outcomes to enable increased flexibility while maintaining academic coherence and standards. This group held a symposium on learning outcomes on 11th February in DIT Grangegorman.

Morag Munro, LIU, and Billy Kelly, DCUBS, represent DCU on this project.

Research Enabled Learning (REL)

Increasingly the question of incorporating cutting edge research into the undergraduate curriculum is raised, with many bemoaning the fact that, often, students are not exposed to their lecturer’s research until they become postgrads, if at all. In addition, with the aspiration towards 4th Level Ireland, the increase of postgraduate programmes and research and the myriad funded research opportunities in recent years, the need to develop a research culture as well as research tools and methodologies into undergraduate programmes, has never been greater. The REL project is addressing this area. The project team will organise an undergraduate research conference in August/September 2010 to give undergraduates an opportunity to present papers and posters. The team will also provide high quality online resources on areas including designing posters, writing abstracts and effective presentations, to support students towards this goal.

Carol Barron, School of Nursing, represents DCU on this project.

Enabling e- and blended learning

The final EOL project addresses the area of enabling e- and blended learning. An audit conducted by the project team over the summer of 2009 yielded some striking facts. For example, the DRHEA institutions collectively represent 75,000 students, 10,000 staff, over 1,000 programmes comprised of in excess of 25,000 modules! When coupled with the fact that this is supported by only 25 e-learning staff, some of whom are not deployed full-time, the case for close collaboration becomes even more relevant. The e-learning team is a key source of support to the other EOL projects and is prioritising the development of a collaborative online module in teaching online.

Seamus Fox, Oscail, represents DCU on this project.

2. Graduate Education Strand

The Graduate Education strand involves five of the eight partner institutions – the four universities and IT Tallaght. Activity is concentrated across six disciplines – Biomedical Science, Chemistry, Economics, Engineering, Physics and Politics/Sociology/Public Policy. You will have seen emails over the last year inviting participation in Masterclasses in areas including Carbohydrate Chemistry, Long-Wave Optics, Computational biophysics, International Relations Theory and Public Policy Analysis to mention only a small sample.  Partners have also negotiated an inter-institutional collaborative agreement enabling student mobility and credit exchange across the DRHEA partners – in effect enabling postgraduate students from any of the partner institutions to take specific modules offered in any other partner institution. Modules across all six discipline areas are already on offer in the current academic year.

DCU’s projects in this area are led by Professor Gary Murphy, Dean of Graduate Research supported by the School of Physical Sciences, School of Chemical Sciences, School of Law and Government, School of Biotechnology, School of Electronic Engineering and NICB.

3. Internationalisation Strand

The third DRHEA strand of activity focuses on our international students and marketing Dublin as a city of choice for students from abroad. DCU is participating in the goal of establishing overseas offices to attract students to Dublin as well as in a scheme to provide scholarships to international students. 

Marie Heraghty, Head of the International Office represents DCU on this project.

4. Widening Participation Strand

This DRHEA strand aims to develop on existing access and participation activity, bring economies of scale and cohesiveness to initiatives across the region as well as developing new collaborative activity. A key initiative in this strand is the establishment of The Higher Learning Network which prioritises the development of joint Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) processes, provision of sample/taster modules and an audit of routes into higher education (completed Summer 2009). 

Prof. Ronnie Munck represents DCU on this project.


Details of other DRHEA projects and activities are available at http://www.drhea.ie.

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