By Mark Brown
Speaking from Washington DC on the morning of Thursday 12th March 2020 the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar, announced that all schools and higher education campuses across Ireland were to close at 6:00pm. This news was not totally unexpected, but the short notice caught many people by surprise and resulted in a flurry of activity within and across Irish educational institutions.
The campus and school lockdown quickly evolved to other sectors with the Government introducing new regulations requiring all bars, restaurants and shops to close. At the time of writing, Ireland remains in a tight lockdown situation until current restrictions are reviewed on May 18th, 2020. However, there is every indication that social distancing requirements will continue for the foreseeable future and seriously impact the start of the new academic year.
When Dublin City University (DCU) hosted the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning back in November 2019 no one amongst the 800+ delegates from over 80 countries could have predicted the great onlining of Irish higher education in the weeks and now months since the Taoiseach’s announcement. The pivot to rapidly teach online has forced us to think around corners and fast-track the future (Brown, 2020). While history teaches us to be wary about making speculative claims about the future it is highly probable that online education will never be the same again (Brown, Costello & Nic Giolla Mhichil, 2020). In 2012, the New York Times declared it was the “Year of the MOOC” (Pappano, 2012) and now 2020 is likely to be known as the year when online education helped us to keep teaching and keep learning. With the benefit of hindsight there is a prophetic quality that rings remarkably true to this extract from Learning in the Light, a poem written by Réaltán Ní Leannáin for last year’s World Conference:
“We no longer stop learning when the darkness gathers,
Those old webs have crumbled in this era of light.
In an age of information, learning squats tight in our grasp, within reach of all.”
On the whole the Irish response to emergency teaching online in the face of darkness and incredibly challenging circumstances has been remarkably positive and relatively successful. The period from March 2020 to May 2020 can be described in three phases:
(i) get online quickly,
(ii) get organised to develop appropriate alternative assessments, and
(iii) get thinking about future scenarios and next steps.
While the Irish story of our response to the Covid-19 pandemic is still being written the unprecedented pivot to online learning will be etched forever into the history of higher education (Brown, 2020). As we pause, look to the future and enter a new stage, however, what lessons can we learn from the experience so far? Although the following reflections and five lessons drawing on the experiences of the NIDL team do not claim to be a definitive or representative account of how Ireland has responded to the Covid-19 global pandemic, hopefully they contribute to useful learnings and further conversations as we move forward.
You can read the five lessons and the rest of this blog post on Mark’s personal Linkedin account.