Learning Innovation Unit, Dublin City University

Learning Innovation Unit

Teaching Reflections

DRHEA e-learning Summer School 2010

By Liam Meany, School of Electronic Engineering

This year I attended the Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance (DRHEA) e-learning summer school, held from June 21th-25th in DIT, Aungier St. The event was coordinated by DIT’s head of e-learning, Dr. Kevin O’Rourke and members of the Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance (DRHEA) e-learning group, and built on the DIT’s annual e-learning summer school model. This year’s theme, ‘Fostering Collaboration’, was particularly appropriate given the involvement of staff from all member institutions of the DRHEA on both an organisational and participative level. 

After the formal opening by Cllr. Emer Costello, Lord Mayor of Dublin and Tom Boland, Chief Executive of the HEA, Monday morning began with an opening presentation by Larry McNutt (ITB), who eloquently set the tone for the School. Larry urged those who wish to grow and develop their field of expertise to embrace the potential that e-learning has to offer. He also spoke about the need to put teaching and learning at the heart of higher education. 

After lunch, Ellen Breen (DCU) and Brian Gillespie (DIT) provided insights into how the Interactive Web is helping to foster student engagement and participation. One notable example was where students had to contribute to a Wikipedia article which was subsequently critiqued by not only fellow students, but by other web users also. Later in the afternoon I attended Niall Watts’ (UCD) hands on session on Wikis and Blogs where delegates had the opportunity to create and experiment with these technologies. 

On Tuesday morning, Jen Harvey (IADT) and Marion Palmer (DIT) put delegates through their paces with the Rethinking and reflecting upon assessment workshop. After an initial multiple choice quiz to examine understanding of assessment, delegates were split into groups and given a number of tasks where they had to write criteria assessments for students learning to drive a car. The workshop stressed that the link between module learning outcomes and appropriate assessment requires careful consideration to ensure an optimum balance. 

The afternoon session began with a workshop on Synchronous technologies presented by Seamus Fox (DCU) and Brian Milligan (IT Sligo). This was of particular interest to me as a tutor currently using asynchronous methods to reach remote online students. It was interesting to see what the synchronous alternative has to offer: participants can communicate simultaneously with other students and with the facilitator while documents can be opened, discussed and shared in real time. This appears to be a great way of encouraging group involvement, something often lacking in the asynchronous method and it will also help reduce isolation in online learning. 

The final session on Tuesday was again split into parallel sessions. I selected to attend Brendan Dixon’s (UCD) workshop on Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs). I learned that there are many features of MCQs that one might not expect. Images such as diagrams can be uploaded for science related modules and it is also possible to grade answers and provide feedback on each multiple choice answer. This gives MCQs great flexibility to be used not just as an assessment method, but also as a learning tool. 

Particpants at the e-learning summer school plenary session

Particpants ar the plenary session

Wednesday morning began with a detailed demonstration by Mike Brady (TCD) on Podcasting. Mike gave a very honest assessment of the technology. He records his lectures into ‘episodes’ using Apple’s Podcasting Producer. These are uploaded to a Web server, and then streamed later by students using iTunes or Media Player. Mike regards this as an excellent low cost way of recording supplementary material for existing courses. Students also find it very useful for revision and distance learning. 

On Wednesday afternoon Kevin O’Rourke (DIT) and Margaret Phelan (ITT) presented an overview of how ePortfolios offer possibilities for assessment. Margaret provided examples from her current Master’s course where she is required to keep assessment reflections in an ePortfolio. It was interesting to note that while it created more work for her, it provided a method whereby she could reflect on the why aspect of her learning and not just the how.

Eamon Costello’s (DCU) Screencasting workshop took place later in the afternoon. Eamon provided an excellent example of how low cost Screencasts can be developed using freely available online tools such as Screenr. Screen activity can be captured quickly and easily and made available to students within minutes. Licensed Screencasting software such as Camtasia is likely to face serious competition from such freely available tools in the future. 

Thursday morning began with a presentation by Prof. Poul Holm (TCD) on TCD’s new Long Room Hub. While not yet open, the Hub seeks to encourage interdisciplinary research across TCD’s Schools of Arts and Humanities. This is undoubtedly a significant undertaking on the part of TCD, given the diverse disciplines and organisation involved. It will be very interesting to see how it develops. 

Later in the morning, an overview of Open Educational Resources (OER) was presented by Catherine Bruen (National Digital Learning Repository), Niamh Brennan (TARA, RIAN, OpenAIRE) and Danielle O’Donovan (TCD). It was remarkable to see how Danielle, a lecturer in Art History, used simple camera images to produce high quality, low cost, 3600 views of building interiors. This was yet another example of how educators are using readily available technology to enhance the teaching and learning experience. 

Workshop partcipants

Workshop partcipants

A plenary panel discussion session was chaired by Jim Devine (IADT) on Thursday afternoon. The panel members were Claire McAvinia (NUIM), Morag Munro (DCU), Rose Cooper (ITT), Jen Harvey (DIT), Miguel DeArce (TCD), Daniel McSweeney (ITB), and Joe Carthy (UCD). The theme of the session was: ‘What is e-learning? Can it facilitate third-level collaboration in the Dublin region?’ Panellists provided their own assessment and then the floor was opened to comment. A frank discussion took place. Some people mentioned how they found teaching online to be far more time consuming than the traditional method. However, it was generally accepted that the advantages offered by e-learning outweighed the disadvantages. 

On Friday, I attended the Moodle 2.0 workshop, facilitated by Liam Ryan (Enovation Solutions). Liam updated delegates on the new features that will be included in Moodle 2.0, such as improved navigation, API repository access, activity locking (where students must satisfy certain conditions before they can unlock a Moodle activity) and portfolio exporting. It will be a while before it is rolled out into general use, but the transparent movement between Moodle 2.0 and other e-learning applications such as Google Apps will be a welcome update for those who currently use them separately. 

In general, the Summer School was very informative and relevant to those already involved or contemplating involvement in e-learning, regardless of level or discipline. It was particularly useful to see the innovation adopted by a number of speakers in using familiar and freely available technologies to enhance the e-learning experience. It demonstrates that inexpensive e-learning technology is within easy reach of those who wish to avail of it. 

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