Three New NIDL Research Projects Investigating Online Education in Response to Covid-19

The NIDL team is looking forward to leading and contributing to three new research projects over the next few months investigating how the higher education sector has responded to the Covid-19 global health crisis. Two of the following projects come under the umbrella of Dublin City University’s new dedicated Covid-19 Research and Innovation Hub established in response to the global pandemic. The Hub is leveraging DCU’s research expertise, in collaboration with national and international stakeholders, with a view to developing solutions that can be implemented and deployed within a three to six months time frame.


Beyond the Covid Pivot: Towards Transformative Online Learning

The first project led by the NIDL involving a team from the Ideas Lab and Open Education Unit, with the DCU Student Union as an Associate Partner, along with discussions underway with other stakeholders, focuses on the student online learning experience. The basic tenet of the research is that learning online is not the same as learning in a traditional classroom, it requires a different set of skills to master. With the recent pivot to online learning in response to Covid-19, the ability to learn effectively online has never been more important.

UNESCO Covid-19Looking forward we need to develop the capacity of students to become effective online learners. We also need to look back to understand and learn from the experience of students so far. This project will, therefore, develop and conduct research on a ‘Learning How to Learn Online’ MOOC on a major platform to support students as they adapt to a greater focus on learning online in higher education settings.

The study will research students’ experiences and perceptions of barriers to learning online in response to COVID-19. These insights from the key-face of the student learning experience will inform future institutional decision-making, help the sector to better harness the potential of online education, and most importantly provide improved online learning experiences for students.

Moving Large, Face-to-Face Classes Online 

This project led by Dr Ann Marie Farrel in DCU’s Institute of Education, with a significant NIDL contribution from members of the Teaching Enhancement Unit, investigates online teaching in large classes. Since March, teaching usually carried out in the face-to-face context has moved very suddenly online. This has been a particular challenge for those teaching large class cohorts and for the students comprising those cohorts.

photo-1566683777581-1a8051f226c9The overall aim of this project is to inform the practice of (i) academics teaching large groups and (ii) those supporting academics in the large class teaching/learning context as we move forward into the next phase of our response to the requirements for social distancing and more creative and innovation forms of teaching online. 

The move to the online environment since March will be evaluated; data from supports provided since March will be analysed (e.g. support requests, PD workshops and seminars since campus closure) and surveys will be used to gather data on the student and staff experience. The intended outcomes of this project will provide guidance for designing learning experiences in the online context, taking diversity of large classes into account.

An Investigation of Affect in Online Teaching during COVID-19

We Need Your HelpThis internationally focused NIDL project asks how have you been feeling while teaching online? It calls on all higher education educators in Ireland, Europe and globally to share their affective experiences of teaching online in response to the Covid-19 crisis. The research seeks to better understand affective and, in particular, educators’ emotions  during their experiences of teaching online in order to learn valuable lessons and help inform support strategies moving forward.  

As this study has already been approved by the DCU Ethics Committee, we would really value your participation and wider promotion of the research. We are aware that everyone is extremely busy at the moment but understanding educators’ experiences during these challenging times is more important than ever as we plan for the upcoming semester, and beyond. Therefore, please have your say by taking around 5 minutes to share your insights and valuable experiences through our anonymous survey.

You can read more about this research and complete the online survey after giving your informed consent by clicking on these embedded  links. 

A Typical Teaching & Learning Day: Rob’s Story…

By Rob Lowney

Life in this pandemic is surreal and anxiety-inducing, so it’s perhaps unusual for me to say that I feel like my work life hasn’t changed that much at all.

rob_lowney_profile_pic_0.jpgPre-pandemic, my days would be filled with meetings, designing and delivering professional development (PD) to academics around learning technologies, responding to learning technology queries… and that’s still how my days are filled. The volume is now much greater, but strangely I’m grateful for that. A busy work day keeps me occupied and I forget about this pandemic for a while.

Each day I get up and make the arduous commute to my desk in the corner of the living room. While waiting for the coffee to percolate, I do a short breathing or meditation exercise, using the app Stop, Breathe and Think. I don’t miss travelling on a packed Dublin Bus every morning, but I do miss that time I have to myself to get my brain oriented, so I try to start my day off well each morning.

Working from home hasn’t been much of a change for me. Pre-pandemic, I could be working on any of DCU’s campuses any day of the week, so I’m used to going without an office. So long as I have my laptop and some wi-fi, I’m good.


The first task is to scan my email and our helpdesk tickets to see if there are urgent issues to be addressed. If there are, I get to them straight away or contact my colleagues in the Loop VLE Support Team. At the other end of these emails is usually an academic who has little experience of teaching fully online. A query might seem small or simple to me but it’s of huge importance to them – and therefore their students – so I strive to treat it as such. Throughout the day my eye is on my email account, alert to anything that might arise. Not ideal – I should be focussing on just one thing at a time – but needs must.

EDTL_IUA-Logo-Master-RGB_A_Transparent-1.pngA core part of my role in DCU is acting as one of the project leads – with my colleague Suzanne Stone – for the IUA Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning (EDTL) project, launched in 2019. Never a more apt time for such a project! Although most of my day is spent on frontline support and PD related to the crisis, it’s still important to keep ‘normal’ projects going. Our project focus is developing academics’ capacity in technology-enhanced assessment. Every day contains an EDTL task – a catch-up with the national project team, a virtual coffee break with our participating groups of academics, designing and delivering online workshops, evaluating our activities, and so on. Our participants have adapted nimbly to the online format for project workshops, and they too are glad to keep going with ‘something normal’.

The Teaching Enhancement Unit’s output of PD activities has increased dramatically during this crisis. Each day we provide up to three webinars related to remote teaching and using the Loop VLE effectively. Most days I deliver a webinar on a Loop tool that can be used for assessment, or co-ordinate with a colleague who presents. It takes time to prepare these each morning but it’s time well spent. PD for academics during this crisis is vital.

Each day usually involves a call with some other members of the Loop Support Team and our head of unit, Mark Glynn, to assess the situation, discuss issues, plan new PD activities, and as the semester draws to a close, to discuss alternative assessment arrangements.

I certainly feel spent by the end of each day, but looking out my apartment window I see St James’s Hospital and it puts things in perspective. My busy work day pales in comparison to the heroic duties our healthcare workers are fulfilling.

Rob Lowney is a Learning Technologist in DCU’s Teaching Enhancement Unit (TEU) in the National Institute for Digital Learning. Rob’s account of his typical day was first published in a special edition of the National Forum’s eZine.