Assessment of Transversal Skills in STEM Project Partner Meeting in “virtual Belgium”

Assessment of Transversal Skills in STEM Project Partner Meeting in “virtual Belgium”

In a parallel universe, the Assessment of Transversal Skills in STEM project team would have been in beautiful Belgium this morning. Sadly however, in the ‘new normal’ international educational research and development project teams no longer converge on some European city for a few intense days of meetings and workshops. Instead we continued the work of the ATS STEM project yesterday online and will meet again over the next two weeks as part of a series of all partner meetings in “virtual Antwerp”. Although there is much to miss about the physical meetings, there are a lot of positives about the current format — such as, less travel time, reduced carbon footprint and negative impact on the climate, space for valuable reflection between meetings and, of course, most critically keeping each other safe.

Mark Brown of Dublin City University and John Hurley of H2 Learning kicked us off by outlining how we have responded to the feedback on the first year report of the project to the European Commission. The feedback to date has highlighted how we have responded to the Covid-19 crisis but also points ways forward for us to continue to help teachers use digital tools in STEM education.

Nilay Aral and Sonja Bracht from Danube Krems University, who lead the Quality Assurance project work package, presented on the critical aspect of risk assessment via a SWOT Analysis. Given the uncertain, changeable nature of the current educational environment this is a key concern of the project. Currently a traffic light system is being used to help indicate how we can work in schools according to the levels of openness in the countries involved. The Strengths of the project were highlighted – in particular the skills of the partners and conceptual framework that has been developed. The importance was re-emphasised of continuing to make our conceptual and practical tools developed visible, compressible and usable for teachers. Stand by for more on this topic.

Finally, Ida Maria Peltoma of Tampere University presented on the ongoing work of teacher professional development from the Tampere team in co-operation with Dublin City University. If you are a teacher interested in using digital tools for assessment of key STEM skills and you would like to get involved, we are currently recruiting participant schools across several countries, so please get in touch with us. For more information, please contact Eamon Costello, Project Lead, or see the ATS STEM project website

Five Lessons from Learning in the Light: Reflecting on the Onlining of Irish Higher Education

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.

No alt text provided for this imageWhen 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.