Discovering our Talent and Creativity through a Purposefully Different Experience

Last Friday, staff in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at Dublin City University (DCU) joined together for a whole of team collaborative professional development activity. Notably, this experience was purposefully different with a creative twist. In two teams, combining over 20 people across all three NIDL units, the challenge for the morning was to produce a large piece of urban art (i.e., graffiti) based on two randomly assigned themes.

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IMG_5241.JPGAs hopefully you can tell from the selected images the two themes were Pirates and Western. At first this was a rather daunting task for people in the face of two large blank canvasses (walls). However, after a brief 101 tutorial on the basics of drawing and painting graffiti from our two expert mentors, each team set about their task by brainstorming possible concepts, sketching out initial designs and learning how to hold and spray a paint can.

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Some people took to this task naturally whereas others slowly warmed to the experience, especially given the doors were left open most of the time to avoid paint fumes.

It’s also fair to say that dividing up tasks, learning new artistic skills and working in a team to produce the intended design was not easy. Notably, the two groups responded quite differently to the challenge under the guidance of their respective team leaders.

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There was a lot of good banter and healthy competition, nevertheless, between the two teams as the large walls gradually filled and increasingly became alive with colourful imagery.

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Over the course of the morning a number of hidden talents emerged and by the end of the experience both teams were rather pleased with their efforts. We believe the final results depicted in the photos immediately above and below illustrate the creative flair, collective problem-solving abilities and collaborative across unit potential of the NIDL team–that is, irrespective of whether you seek treasure or just prefer to have a quiet drink in the saloon.

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Of course, the challenge for us in the New Year is to build on this innovative professional development experience to more fully harness our combined talents. We hope through this non digital experience (apart from the photos) that we have set a new benchmark for discovering more creative, distinctive and transformative ways of realising our vision of designing, implementing and researching new Blended, Online and Digitally-enhanced (BOLD) models of education.

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In the meantime, the words of Einstein spring to mind and go some way to encapsulating the real spirit and essence of last week’s purposefully different professional development challenge, as we strive in the NIDL to promote talent, creativity, and consistent excellence:

“Creativity is intelligence having fun”

(Albert Einstein)

New Funding for Collaboration to Promote Universal Design for Learning

The Teaching Enhancement Unit (TEU) is delighted to partner with colleagues in Student Support & Development (SS&D) to implement an initiative focused on staff development in the principles and practices of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This new initiative aimed at promoting and implementing an inclusive teaching and learning environment is enabled thanks to a recent successful application to the Quality Improvement and Development (QUID) fund from the Quality Promotions Office.  The 2017/18 funding call was focused on the theme of ‘Internal Communications’ and sought proposals for projects which aimed to enhance how we share and interact with our internal community in Dublin City University (DCU).

The joint TEU/SS&D initiative intends to engage staff and students in dialogue about UDL, from which an agreed definition will emerge followed by a series of initiatives to raise and develop staff awareness.  The initiative will provide guidance and support to enhance communication with learners across all of DCU’s campuses. As this video (from AHEAD, the Association for Higher Education Access & Disability) explains, UDL offers a framework and set of associated principles for curriculum design that promote more flexible modes of teaching, learning and assessment to cater to all learners with varying learning preferences:

UDL aims to improve and optimise teaching and learning for all learners, based on scientific insights into how humans learn; it operates around three overarching principles or guidelines, as summarised in this graphic reproduced from the AHEAD website:

UDL Principles

In a nutshell, UDL recognises that a ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t work for learners and that flexible and varying means of engagement, representation and action/expression will allow for a more inclusive learning and teaching environment for all learners. It seeks to ensure that all learners are offered equal opportunities to succeed, premised on the understanding that we all learn differently and this variation in learning aptitudes and preferences must be incorporated into the design of curricula and assessment strategies. As we are aware, there is increasing diversity of participation in Higher Education: although this infographic from the Higher Education Authority (2016) relates to the academic year 2015/16 (we are awaiting updated statistics), it does highlight the varying profile of the Higher Education learner and increasing levels of participation of what might be termed ‘non-traditional’ students:

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Therefore, it is incumbent on Higher Education staff and faculty to consider how we can engage with learners with diverse learning needs; the initiative designed by the TEU and SS&D seeks to enhance the teaching and learning experience of all learners through staff development in the principles and practices of UDL.

Starting in January 2018, this project will engage staff and students in conversations about UDL, from which an agreed definition of UDL will emerge. This task will be underpinned by research to document existing levels of expertise and engagement with the principles of UDL, followed by a series of events which will develop staff awareness and provide guidance and support to ultimately enhance communication with students. Through consultation and engagement, we seek through this project to develop an inclusive DCU community, underpinned by the principles and practices of UDL.

Keep an eye on the TEU website for further developments as this project unfolds in 2018! If you would like more information or to get involved please get in touch with Dr Laura Costelloe [Laura.Costelloe@dcu.ie].

References

Association for Higher Education Access & Disability [AHEAD] (2017) The UDL Framework Explained. Available at https://ahead.ie/udl-framework (Accessed 4 December 2017).

Higher Education Authority (2016) Key Facts and Figures. Available at http://hea.ie/assets/uploads/2017/06/HEA-Key-Facts-and-Figures-201516.pdf (Accessed 4 December 2017).