CPD in the “New” Old Fashioned Way

The Dublin City University (DCU) Teaching and Learning Week 2021 took place in early September. This event is run annually by the Teaching Enhancement Unit (TEU), traditionally over a single day, face-to-face. In 2020, Teaching and Learning Day became ‘Teaching and Learning Week’ with online events scheduled over a full week.

This format was adopted again for 2021 with the event run over three consecutive days. Our DCU colleague, Enda Donlon (2021), discusses the of myriad changes forced upon academic conferences during the Covid pandemic but lauds the creativity in formats and reimagined solutions that have ensued. One such format referenced by Donlon is “a combination of live-streamed presentations and pre-recorded content”, which was the approach taken for the 2020/2021 Teaching and Learning events.

The theme of the 2021 event was influenced by the wealth of resources from webinars, blogs, and academic papers discussing the impacts to teaching of the current COVID-19 pandemic (many available in the NIDL resource bank). All highlight the significant shift in educational practices caused by the move to online teaching and learning. 

This change has not been easy; learning new pedagogies and technologies, trying to engage and support students, all whilst living and working through pandemic anxiety and fatigue has been challenging.

The Teaching & Learning Week event sought to offer an opportunity to pause, reflect, and consider the impact of this on future teaching approaches but utilise a playful approach to ward off Zoom fatigue and create an engaging learning environment.

As well as the now traditional Zoom presentations, the 2021 event included novel learning formats including recorded fireside chats with students, virtual worlds with Topia, and synchronous and asynchronous escape rooms activities on the below themes:

  • Enhancing engagement in the online space through playful practices
  • Promoting a pedagogy of care
  • Impactful technology integration beyond Covid

Feedback indicated that the Escape rooms were particularly interesting to staff and having participated they are likely to use this form of immersive problem-solving experience to engage their own learners. In the words of a couple of DCU colleagues…

“I think that the Escape is a fabulous idea”;

“Thanks for a really interesting session, …. I’d be very interested in using some of/replicating your session for a tutorial class in a first year module”.

Two escape rooms were offered as part of the programme; one to support podcasting skills and the other to promote Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approaches in the Moodle virtual learning environment. In addition, the playful approach was continued in the social spaces of Teaching & Learning week. A Topia virtual world was designed to encompass areas to sit and chat as well as a virtual dance floor where numerous participants were able to share their moves!

Over 100 participants attended the live sessions and over 220 engaged with the online resources and activities on the custom Moodle page this year. In conjunction with Teaching and Learning Week, new episodes of the Edge of Discovery podcast series were launched; some specially recorded as submissions for the annual CPD event. 

Increasing staff workload can lead to less time to focus on professional development activities (Foster & Warwick, 2018) and during a global pandemic where educators have been frantically trying to change pedagogies and embrace new technologies, this has never been more relevant. In the spirit of bringing the best back from COVID, and to enable the ongoing engagement of DCU staff, all online resources will remain available on the custom Moodle page.  

Finally, a special thanks to Lisa Donaldson who took a lead role in planning this year’s event. Many thanks to Lisa and the wider TEU team.

References

Donlon, E. (2021). Lost and found: the academic conference in pandemic and post-pandemic timesIrish Educational Studies, 1-7.

Foster, T., & Warwick, S. (2018). Nostalgia, gamification and staff development–moving staff training away from didactic deliveryResearch in Learning Technology26.

Accessibility Awareness Week

Co-hosted by the Teaching Enhancement Unit and DCU Students’ Union, the inaugural DCU Accessibility Awareness Week (May 17th – 21st) aimed to get the DCU community talking, thinking and learning about accessibility and inclusive education. 

The event drew on the expertise of staff within the DCU community and external contributors from across Ireland, the UK and Australia. We are particularly grateful to the following staff who gave so generously of their time in guiding the development of the programme: Donal Fitzpatrick, School of Computing; Rishi Gulati, School of Law and Government; Anne O’Connor, Head of Disability Service; Mary McGovern, Assistive Technology Coordinator; and our external advisor Dara Ryder CEO of AHEAD. 

The Teaching Enhancement Unit’s approach to accessibility is underpinned by the principles of Universal Design for Learning, a framework developed to guide curriculum design to give all students equal opportunities to learn. While Accessibility Awareness Week addressed the broader student experience, the UDL framework was used to frame the teaching and learning aspect of the programme. You can learn more about Universal Design for Learning, and how this framework supports and intersects with Accessibility, on the TEU website. 

The Programme

The programme was officially launched by DCU’s President, Professor Daire Keogh who reaffirmed our commitment to an inclusive university and highlighted some of the fantastic work happening across the University. Mindful of the many demands on staff time, the programme offered a mix of opportunities to engage with the programme.

Staff could dip into a selection of curated online resources; attend 30-minute practical workshops; or take a full hour to listen in and participate with the daily 60 minute panel discussions.

The majority of the workshops and panel discussions were recorded and are available now on the TEU website. Irish Sign Language (ISL) translators were present for the majority of the live events and live captions were available in Zoom. 

The workshops, facilitated by experts from DCU and AHEAD, provided participants with strategies to make ‘small changes’ to their practice to make an impact on accessibility and inclusion. Recordings from these events, and additional supporting resources are available on the TEU website. The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit based in HR, took the opportunity of Accessibility Awareness Week to launch a guideline for staff on Inclusive Ways of Working.

This guideline offers support to staff across the university in adopting inclusive ways of working – from how you design documents, to turning on closed captions for virtual meetings or how to better understand the role of pronouns. 

The panel discussions offered rich food for thought from a range of perspectives including DCU staff, students and external experts in the field of accessibility and inclusive education. These insights will inform future work by the Teaching Enhancement Unit and DCUSU in creating a truly inclusive University experience for both staff and students. Recordings of these panel discussions are available on the TEU website in both video and audio formats. 

An Authentic Student Voice

It was essential to the TEU and DCUSU that an authentic student voice informed the programme of events. Students past and present contributed to the panel discussions throughout the week, offering invaluable insights into their lived experience of accessibility and inclusive education. Tuesday’s student only panel was a true highlight of the week, with rich discussion around the impact of accessibility on the student experience of University

In addition to including the student voice in the panel discussions, students with a lived experience of accessibility were invited to record a brief video to frame the workshop aspect of the programme. Catherine Gallagher, currently a PhD student in the School of Communication, poses four questions to consider in relation to accessibility and inclusion. Catherine’s questions in the above video offer a clear framework for those working in a University context to reflect on accessibility and inclusion in their day to day working practices.

The DCUSU perspective

DCU Students’ Union has long desired to improve the experience for students with disabilities, both nationally and locally. As VP for Welfare & Equality 2020-21, this was a key area of interest of mine for the year. Following on from the success of the Society Accessibility Policy, which I developed alongside the Society Life Committee and the Students with Disabilities Advisory Group (SwD AG), it was a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with the TEU on the inaugural Accessibility Awareness Week.

The key objective for this week was to centre lived experiences of students with disabilities and take those as a lead for how to best improve the teaching and learning experience.

It was truly a pleasure to work alongside the SwD AG and TEU on the project. At each step, the student experience was always considered. 

It was a great honour to chair the Student Panel and facilitate the conversation between Catherine, Bobbie, & Kate. The honesty that the students offered was inspiring and insightful. From that panel, and indeed from the week itself, it was clear that inclusive practices in Higher Education aren’t burdensome. Often, it is small adjustments and some simple questions that go a long way.

I hope to see the week only grow and expand as the years go on, and I’m proud to have been part of its first iteration.

Dean O’Reilly

Plans for 2022

Feedback from participants on the inaugural Accessibility Awareness Week was most positive, and we hope that the event will become a permanent fixture on the DCU calendar.  While this year focused largely on raising accessibility awareness for staff, we aim to broaden the programme towards raising student awareness of accessibility in 2022. A key suggestion from participants was to change the timing of the event. Taking on board this advice, next year’s Accessibility Awareness Week is planned for February 2022. If you are interested in being involved in next year’s event, please contact us at teaching.enhancement@dcu.ie

Thank yous

The TEU and DCUSU would like to thank all of those who contributed to the inaugural Accessibility Awareness Week. 

Trevor Boland, AHEAD (External); Karen Buckley, School of Special & Inclusive Education; Kevin Cogan, DCU student and creator of Dyslex.ie; Lorna Greene, EDI Unit; Donal Fitzpatrick, School of Computing; Catherine Gallagher, PhD student, School of Communications; Tracy Galvin, Queen’s University Belfast (External); Kate Goodman, Vice President for Academic Life, DCUSU; Rishi Gulati, School of Law & Government; Bobbie Hickey, VP for Diversity and Inclusion, DCUSU; David Kennedy, School of Human Development; Evelyn Kelleher, School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health;  Kate Lister, Open University, UK (External);  Mary McGovern, Information Systems Services; Rob Lowney, Teaching Enhancement Unit; Huy Nguyen, CEO/Founder Enabler Interactive (External);  Anne O’Connor, Disability & Learning Support Service; Michael O’Connor, former DCU student; Lisa Padden, UCD (External);  Nicholas Parsons, Senior Solicitor and Chair of the Disability, Subcommittee of the Law Society of New South Wales Diversity and Inclusion Committee (External);  Donal Rice, National Disability Authority (External); Dara Ryder, AHEAD (External); Ms Renata Zanetti, Independent Consultant (External).