Supporting this Year’s Open Education Week

Unknown.pngThis week is “Open Education Week” and several members of the NIDL team have already contributed, or will be over the next few days, to a range of activities and related events. On Tuesday, for example, Professor Mark Brown moderated a webinar on “The Story of the Open University” as part of EDEN’s programme of activities for the week . You can read more about this webinar and what the four distinguished panel members had to share on a blog written by Professor Grainne Conole. A recording will also be available on EDEN’s website


On Wednesday, Professor Grainne Conole gave a presentation on “Open Education into the Future” as part of another EDEN webinar on the broader theme of “Ongoing Initiatives for Open Education in Europe“. The slides from Grainne’s talk can be accessed below and a recording will also be available on EDEN’s website: 

And on Friday in another contribution to EDEN’s webinar series, Professor Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl is participating on a panel discussion on the topic of “Researching Openness – Evidenced-based Approaches“. More specifically this webinar will explore the following questions:

  • How openness is approach in research? Thematic overview (levels of openness, other dimensions that are addressed through research publications, e.g. open online learning, open distance learning, OER, OEP, etc.).
  • What impact does openness have upon education?
  • What kind of openness do we (society) need?
  • What are the characteristics of open learning, open curriculum, open education and open learner/ teacher?

Dublin City University (DCU) has a long history of Open Education and our commitment spans all three traditional pillars of university work: research, teaching and service. For example, last year DCU was the first Irish University to launch an open access press through a strategic partnership with University College London (UCL). The Open Education Unit in the NIDL continues to play a key role in the provision of online distance education through the DCU Connected platform as part of DCU’s wider mission of opening access to higher education and transforming lives and societies. Our NIDL team also makes a significant contribution to the Open Education agenda through service activities, with many of our staff serving on the executive committees of major professional bodies working in the area. There is also a strong Open Education dimension to this year’s ICDE World Conference on Online Learning that DCU is hosting in the Convention Centre Dublin in November.

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Digital Transformation and Empowering Technologies in Higher Education

By Professor Grainne Conole

I recently attended a HEA Future-focus Forum on Digital Transformation and Empowering Technologies in Higher Education. Prior to the meeting a paper was circulated setting the scene for the meeting. This contextualized the topic by referencing various Irish and EU relevant documents, including the Irish Future Jobs Initiative, the Digital Agenda for Europe, the European Digital Education Action Plan, the European Higher Education Area in 2018, etc.

HkS68JKL_400x400.jpgThe paper argued that digital transformation is pervasive and can be understood as the changes that digital technology causes or influences in all aspects of human life. In addition, Higher Education will change significantly over the coming years due to digital transformation. Critical questions include: how can higher education Institutions (HEI) provide leadership in ensuring an ethical and responsible use of technology and data? How do we empower people to build a data-first culture and future proof our digital infrastructure? What are the challenges and how do we prepare for them? What international best practice exists to inform a national approach to digital transformation in Higher Education?


The Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, opened the meeting. She argued that digital transformation should be at the core of all Higher Education Institutions and that digital literacy is essential for all citizens. She referred to the recently launched Technology Skills 2022 Action Plan. She argued that students should be at the centre of all that we do, and that the iPhone generation are now 10 years old, whose primary communication mechanisms is through social media. However, despite the benefits of technologies, there are associated risks, such as issues around mental health and the problem of cyberbullying. New technologies are emerging all the time, such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, Virtual and Augmented Realities. She stated that 1 in 3 jobs will be affected by digitization. Fundamentally, she argued that creativity is no longer a soft skill, it is a core skill.

Tim Fowler, Chief Executive, Tertiary Education Commission, New Zealand, focused on future proofing digital infrastructure for HE.  He had three key messages: we need to be brave and be prepared to take risks and embrace change, we need to future proof and harness rich data, and we need to move towards more open practices.


Regina Murray from Microsoft Ireland pointed to some of the emergent technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Mixed Reality, Blockchain Technologies, and Quantum Computing, She referred to the Microsoft Transformation Framework for Higher Education, which provides practical advice on how to develop a holistic digital transformation strategy. This is based on three components: teaching and learning, research and the connected campus.

Paul Doyle, from the Technological University Dublin (TUD) argued that the future is unpredictable, he referenced Gartner’s hype curve of the rise and fall of technologies. He listed five future pressures for education: digital identity and how do we know who our learners are, data transfer, the need to constantly power up and be connected, the issue of cyber-security and increasing importance of online learning. He concluded by stating we are facing a digital tsunami, with single device access.

Mary Aiken, from University College Dublin (UCD), lead the second part of the session and focused on cyberpsychology, which is the study of the impact of technology on human behaviour.  She argued that whilst we are more connected than ever, young people are experiencing greater levels of anxiety, depressions and social isolation. Alarmingly she quoted that anxiety and depression has increased by 70% over the last 25 years and that around 20% of young people don’t think it is worth living.

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The final session focused on providing leadership in responsible and ethical technology. This included reference to Bauman’s seminal work on liquid modernity and in particular that today’s environment is fragile, temporal, vulnerable and constantly changing. Gerald Bast, Rector of the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, argued that we need different skills, such as complex problem solving and critical thinking. He envisioned what universities in 2050 might look like. He argued that they would focus on topics rather than discipline, that lifelong learning would be central, that MOOCs and open access would be prominent, that emergent technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality would be important, that there would be new roles for teachers, that curricula would be personalized and that students would collaborate rather than compete.

The proceedings and presentations from the event will be available on the HEA website  in the coming weeks. Overall, it was a valuable day with lots of thought-provoking issues raised. Many of these issues will be explored further at this year’s ICDE World Conference on Online that Dublin City University (DCU) is hosting in the Convention Centre in early  November.