Open Education – DCU Connected Tutor Awards and Festive Coffee Morning

Usually around this time of year, everyone in the Open Education Unit would be celebrating the season together with festive treats and mulled wine. While 2020 has been a very different one, that hasn’t stopped us from celebrating the hard work and commitment of our many DCU Connected tutors working for Open Education. Accordingly, last week we hosted a virtual Festive Coffee Morning to recognise their hard work and commitment to supporting our fully online DCU Connected programmes. With an attendance of over 40 people from all of the country, and indeed the world, it was a fantastic way to end the year and reconnect with colleagues after a challenging few months.

Every year, we recognise three of our 90+ part-time teaching staff with awards for excellence in teaching and this year is no different. Receiving their awards in the post and getting a special mention at our coffee morning, we made sure their work was recognised. This year’s awardees are profiled below…

DCU Connected BA in Humanities Tutor of the Year – Dr Sophia Pallaro

Sophia has a passion for sociology and is extremely thorough with her explanations and engaging tutorials. She has an infectious enthusiasm for sociology and provides unambiguous feedback on assignments while being very encouraging. Sophia is always very helpful, informative and enthusiastic which resonates with all her students.

Student Feedback:

  • I found the tutorials both informative and stimulating and appreciated the opportunities Sophia gave us for discussion
  • I really enjoyed this module. Sophia is a very engaging and encouraging tutor. 
  • Sophia was very helpful throughout the module with very clear directions and really helpful feedback on all my assignments.

DCU Connected IT Programmes Tutor of the Year – Philip Carey

Philip has been tutoring on our Communications Technology modules for the last five years.  In that time he has consistently brought the subject to life for the students by leveraging his vast experience in this dynamic field.  He regularly receives highly positive feedback from his students for his knowledge, ability, feedback and indeed his patience.  He is a highly valued member of our Open Education team and a pleasure to work with.

Student Feedback:

  • Philip was a brilliant tutor, easy to understand and explained material we covered very well. He was passionate about what he was teaching which made it more interesting to learn it.”
  • Philip is an excellent tutor, made the classes interesting and broke down some very complex topics into ways that were easy to understand.
  • Philip Carey was excellent. He was very approachable and knowledgeable where we had any questions or needed help.

DCU Connected Postgraduate Programmes Tutor of the Year – Ann Whyte

Ann graduated from our M.Sc. Management for Sustainable Development programme as the overall top graduate across our five M.Sc. programmes in 2018. In 2019, she joined our staff as an academic developer and programme tutor. Ann’s commitment to developing excellent sustainable development academic material across our programmes is equally matched by her support to colleagues and her endless generosity to students. Ann goes above and beyond  to ensure her students have a very positive experience at DCU and that they reach their academic potential. She is a most worthy winner of Open Education’s 2020 Postgraduate Tutor of the Year.  

Student Feedback:

  • I would like to acknowledge the support, and assistance I received from my dissertation supervisor, Ann Whyte. Her guidance and patience throughout this research project have been incomparable .
  • I would sincerely like to thank my dissertation supervisor, Ann Whyte, for your encouragement, feedback and all round support throughout this dissertation process.
  • I would like to thank my supervisor Ann Whyte for her support and extensive knowledge in this area. She has offered continuous guidance and encouragement throughout this process.

A Big Thanks to the Whole Team

Throughout 2020 all of our tutors went an extra mile to ensure the highest quality of delivery and support was provided to our DCU Connected students through this difficult year. To recognise this, each tutor received a DCU Mug in the post just in time for the coffee morning!

The Open Education team hope all of our tutors, students and industry partners have a restful break as you enjoy the festivities of the season and we wish you all the best for the year to come! We know that 2021 will bring further challenges but the resilience developed over the past year will hold us in good stead for the start of Semester 2 in January.

A Sanctuary Online: DCU’s Commitment to Learning for all…

This World Refugee Day, 20th June, DCU is pleased to announce a further 30 scholarships for Irish-based asylum seekers and refugees. This blog post reflects on the success of the scholarship programme so far, with a particular focus on the student online learning experience. 

world-refugee-day-photos-download-1-1080x6752As we recognise World Refugee Day this year, many people welcome the proposed end to Direct Provision, Ireland’s system of accommodating asylum seekers instituted 20-years ago in 1999. The difficult living conditions of people in the Irish asylum seeking community are well documented, but little has been done over the past decade to improve the system of direct provision.

As of January 2018, there were 5,096 men, women and children, including 801 families, living in the 34 direct provision centres across 17 counties in Ireland. Residents spent an average of 23 months in direct provision, while 432 people had been in this system for 5 years or more. 

Direct provision centre in Lissywollen, Athlone in 2013 |Image by Braca Karicption

In 2016, DCU became the first Irish university to be designated as a ‘University of Sanctuary’ for its commitment to welcome asylum seekers and refugees into the university community. Since then, the University has offered multiple scholarships to Irish-based asylum seekers and refugees at the third level. In particular, the DCU Connected Scholarships for online study have been well received in part due to the geographically spread location of the direct provision centres. 

Generally, Irish-based asylum seekers are not entitled to free higher education, including the opportunity to access Springboard+ courses. Problems faced by those who want to enter third level education in Ireland include lack of access to logistical requirements, financial difficulties, digital competence, recognition of their previous accreditations, and difficulty in finding a sense of community.

james_brunton_001These challenges are illustrated by a team of DCU researchers in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) who have documented the student experiences of asylum seekers studying under the University of Sanctuary scheme. A recent article appearing in Open Praxis reports a stark divide between their dual identities of being ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘online learners’. According to Dr James Brunton, it was found that identification with the university community was contrasted with ‘disidentification’ with the ‘asylum world’. Importantly, a more connected approach to supporting refugees transition into higher education was found to have a positive impact on their overall online learning experience.


Table 1: Supports provided for online University of Sanctuary scholars

Supports for University of Sanctuary scholars include pre-entry and on-entry actions such as online socialisation courses through the VLE and other targeted services, such as on-campus orientations, logistical aids such as provisions for laptops and broadband, and dedicated academic support throughout the year. Some of these supports and services are outlined in Table 1. 

The NIDL research demonstrated the importance of flexible, online, open study routes at higher education levels for underrepresented groups, such as those in direct provision, as a means to reducing some of the major structural, financial, digital, and social barriers typically associated with students in their circumstances. As one research participant said, 

“The asylum world is very, very depressing, you’re constantly anxious, you’re constantly in limbo… But again when I flashed back to the support that DCU is giving me, I tell myself no, I cannot let this happen. And so when I think of the support that the DCU family has given me, it’s like a voice talking to me”.

orna_farrell_002A more recent publication appearing in Research in Learning Technology reports, according to Dr Orna Farrell, that “one of the challenges of the University of Sanctuary scholarship scheme, particularly for online students, was to ensure the scholars felt a sense of community during their studies”. When asked what made them feel part of the DCU community, one of the participants said:

“I think the services that are offered by DCU. Like it’s like the community within a community that I belong to my own community but then I have the DCU community. Everybody’s welcoming, you are at home.”

The NIDL research team concludes that our qualitative research strengthens the idea that access programmes such as the University of Sanctuary scholarships can facilitate participation in higher education for refugees, and a sense of community, provided the necessary support is in place.

On a personal level, the transformative impact of the DCU Connected Scholarships were vividly illustrated during the Opening Ceremony of last year’s ICDE World Conference on Online Learning. Olufunke Olarinoye, a University of Sanctuary scholar, shared her own brave and emotional story giving a unique insight into the real impact that online education can have on life and the hopes and aspirations of learners beyond the virtual classroom.  

This year, DCU is continuing its online study scholarship programme for Irish-based asylum seekers and refugees with 5 DCU Connected and 10 DCU FutureLearn scholarships. Applications are now open and the deadline for submissions is 10th August, 2020.

Further reading

  1. Brunton, J., Farrell, O., Costello, E., Delaney, L., Foley, C., & Brown, M. (2019). Duelling identities in refugees learning through open, online higher education. Open Praxis, 11(4), 397.
  2. Farrell, O., Brunton, J., Costello, E., Delaney, L., Brown, M., & Foley, C. (2020). ‘This is two different worlds, you have the asylum world and you have the study world’: an exploration of refugee participation in online Irish higher education. Research in Learning Technology, 20, 1-15.