Large turnout for Welcome Day for new DCU Connected online students

If you work in academia this is the most important time of the year, with the new Semester starting and new students arriving, life on campus is mega busy! Last Saturday was our Welcome Day for our new DCU Connected students. The weather was kind to us, it was a beautiful Autumnal day and the Glasnevin campus was looking at its best. We had an amazing turnout of new students – this year around 400 participated in the Welcome Day and there was a real buzz to the place.

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The Welcome Day is an important opportunity for our new online students to meet their programme chairs and tutors and to talk to other students. It is a way for them to feel part of DCU right from the outset – to feel “connected” wherever they study! We have students from across Ireland, and beyond, and of course not everyone was able to attend the Welcome Day. For this reason we also have a virtual equivalent suite of welcome resources for those students unable to join us.

4.jpgSaturday’s welcome included students studying our online Springboard+ courses mostly funded by the Irish Government, and we were delighted to also welcome our six new University of Sanctuary scholars. The NIDL team is very proud of our work in providing Irish refugees and asylum seekers scholarship opportunities to pursue higher education through DCU Connected. The Welcome Day, along with the Graduation Ceremony is one of the few opportunities we have to meet our students face-to-face

After refreshments and registration, we had a series of short talks introducing students to some of the services and supports available to our online students. Professor Gráinne Conole, the recently appointed Head of the Open Education Unit in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) started, providing an overview of the online learning environment, Loop and associated online resources designed to support student success.


1.jpgOf particular note is a new learning development service we are providing our online students this year from a strategic partnership with Studiosity, which offers two major features integrated within Loop: (i) a 24-hour formative feedback service to students on their draft written assignments, and (ii) the ability to connect outside of normal business hours with a study coach or subject expert via chat to provide just-in-time advice on learning activities and assessment tasks. We will evaluate this service over the course of the year to better understand how we can fully integrate new online tools and resources, such as Studiosity, as part of the DCU Connected experience.

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We were delighted that Vito Maloney Burke, the DCU Student’s Union President, was also present to welcome our new students. He gave an engaging and enthusiastic talk on what the Student Union could provide for DCU Connected students. Of particular note is the fantastic new Student Centre, the ‘U’, which was officially launched last Thursday by President Michael Higgins and DCU’s own President.

Student Support and Development (SSD) had prepared lovely welcome packs, which included lots of goodies, including a very nice diary. Annabella Stover, Deputy Director of Student Support and Development (SSD) and Karina Curley (Student Learning) then outlined the various services SSD provide.

This includes Discover DCU – a series of 8 interactive online courses to help new students get orientated with DCU. They outlined how SSD provides three levels of support: personal, professional and academic. SSD has a presence on both the Glasnevin and St Patrick’s campuses, and support and advice are available both face-to-face and online. Annabella also announced a new 24/7 online counselling service available to all DCU Students. In addition, students can access medical support, there is both a nurse and doctor on campus. There is also careers advice, which includes support for writing CVs/job applications, career fairs and access to an online job vacancy facility. Other services available to our online students include disability and learning support, writing and study support, and a writing centre.

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After this formal opening students had the opportunity to learn more about their specific programme of study and to meet their course chairs and tutors and chat with other students. These sessions provided an overview of the modules, an indication of the amount of study time required, pointers to useful resources and support, and an opportunity to hear from existing students.

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It was a fantastic day, it was lovely to see the students so enthusiastic and excited about starting their new courses. It also provided us with an opportunity to talk to the students and to reassure them on any concerns they may have had about their course and studying online through DCU Connected. We look forward very much to engaging with our DCU Connected students via Loop – our online learning environment – and to see them develop and progress through their programme of study.

Ireland Eaten: The Big Software Feast

By Dr Eamon Costello

It is almost seven years since Marc Andreeson famously declared that software is eating the world. What did he mean? And if he was right, is software still chomping down on us?

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Part of the software-is-eating-the-world narrative is about disruption. It is about how companies, particularly startups, can rapidly design, develop and deliver innovative products using modern software development techniques and technologies. By harnessing mobile technologies, agile methods, cloud computing and AI they can flatten barriers that might have long protected established market players and even entire industries. Companies emerge in this story from strange places. Amazon evolved from posting books to become the largest provider of cloud computing. Netflix (which runs on Amazon’s AWS cloud technology) started out in the business of posting DVDs.

Eamonn_Costello_001.jpgAnother part of this story is the ubiquity of software. Two weeks ago I was at the EdTech conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association which is the premier annual gathering of professionals in Ireland with expertise in the intersection of tech and higher education. My presentation was about the cost of textbooks and myself and colleagues wrote software to help programmatically search for textbook costs (we used the Google Cloud platform, Google Books API, Javascript and MongoDB for this and distributed the code and our results via github and Zenodo). The software wasn’t really the main focus of my talk however. It was just a handy tool to help answer a bigger question about educational affordability. But the point is that you can write code to help solve such a wide range of problems now.

I submitted my proposal to the conference some weeks previously through a cloud hosted conference organisation system called Exordo. Exordo have a really nice software offering that helps run research conferences (their UX design is particularly slick). They are also a great example of an indigenous software company, based as they are in Galway. There is a long tail of these small to medium companies in Ireland. They may not grab the headlines a Google or an Amazon do but do they provide valuable products and services and of course employment as part of a rich ecosystem of Irish tech companies.

As I drove home from the conference in Carlow I passed by the strategic software development and services centre for Unum, which is a leading provider of employee benefits in the US. Unum are a company with a long heritage in a mature and established market but who are delivering innovative solutions through software developed in Ireland (innovations that are heading back to the US). Unum provide many highly skilled jobs in software development to people outside of Dublin.

Here at Dublin City University, as Ireland’s University of Enterprise, we have a strong focus on industry engagement. In our Higher Diploma in Software Development for example we have representatives from companies such as Facebook, Equifax, Workday and MongoDB come and talk directly to students via our DCU Connected Industry Insights online seminar series. Industry links can be particularly important for students in contextualising their learning. For example, learning how to create a document-oriented NoSQL database with MongoDB becomes more significant after an expert lecture from one of the company developers. Moreover, this innovative company, that blazed a trail in the NoSQL database technology revolution, have their EMEA HQ located right here in Dublin, is a significant employer and has been a real supporter of educational initiatives such as Springboard+ (spot the DCU graduate).

We have also arranged talks from smaller companies such as Tapadoo or the innovative PatientMPower whose software is helping patients with very serious illnesses. The PatientMPower session was particularly useful as students studying mobile app development with us could get a sense of how the skills they were learning are applied in production environments. It also blew my mind to think of the medical technology that patients effectively now have in their hands and the access it affords them to medical researchers working at the cutting edge of health science. Even a decade ago it would have been hard to imagine this from a small Irish company.

2017c.pngThe point I am labouring is that under every stone you turn over in the Irish economy you will find code. Software is all pervasive in what we do. Not just in big companies or those that look like traditional software houses, but in companies of all shapes, sizes and provenances. We need a corresponding range of people to work in the roles that are being created. This is the rationale behind the Government sponsored ICT Skills Conversion initiative where a graduate in a non-ICT discipline can augment their existing education and experiences through focused study of core modern ICT topics. DCU’s Higher Diploma in Software Development, which runs part-time over two years, is delivered online through our DCU Connected platform but students also have the opportunity to come on campus to meet each other and their academic tutors. If you think you have the curiosity and the passion to engage in study in this exciting area and get involved in the great software lunch we would love to hear from you.

Contact us:

If you want further information about the Higher Diploma in Software Development or any of our DCU Connected online courses then please contact us:

connected@dcu.ie

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Note: Eamon first posted this brief opinion piece when he returned from the EdTech2018 conference through his personal Linkedin account.