Transcending Realms – Realising Irish Ambitions

By Dr Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichí

As the children came to the door, this Halloween trick or treating dressed as ghouls and witches, I wondered how many of them know about the origins of Halloween or Samhain as it is known in Celtic and Gaelic Cultures? Samhain translates as the last day of summer and marks the start of Winter in the Celtic Calendar. Celts believed that the Spirit world was closer during this time and that it was easier for the faeries (sióga) or ghosts (púcaí) to cross back into our world. They were welcomed by the Celts, were prayed for and even had a place set for them at the celebration table to ensure a good harvest in the coming year!


Our Gaelic ancestors had little difficultly in dealing with the notion of the seamless movement between the spiritual and the so-called real worlds. I think they would have enjoyed our virtual or online world as it blurs into all aspects of the canvas of our everyday lives. It is fitting, therefore, in this most Celtic of months, that registrations are open for DCU’s first MOOC, Irish 101: Irish language and culture on the FutureLearn platform. The MOOC is one part of the Fáilte ar Líne (Welcome on Line) programme, co- funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as part of Twenty Year Strategy for the Irish Language. The Fáilte ar Líne team based in the NIDL Ideas Lab, and is working with Fiontar and Scoil na Gaeilge (DCU’s Irish language-medium School) to develop this course and a wider suite of offerings in the Irish language and culture which will be available online and therefore, globally.

This initiative is part of a national, concerted effort to develop and enhance the Irish language and culture’s presence in the online space. It provides the opportunity for the global Irish diaspora to connect with Ireland and more importantly for Ireland to remain connected in them. It allows people interested in our Irish language and culture to engage in learning and more importantly to meet with like-minded people from across the world. It also provides an opportunity for those who are currently learning or teaching Irish to connect with others and to be part of a larger globally, supported-community and meitheal (people working together).

Irish 101

Dublin City University (DCU) is leading the Fáilte ar Líne project on behalf of the Irish Government but we are fully aware that we cannot or indeed should do this alone:

Put simply, this means we rely on each other, as the Celts did at harvest time. As such DCU hopes to work with partners and networks nationally and internationally to deliver on this ambition – we have already started to make these connections. There is a wealth of experience and expertise globally, within institutions and local communities. We do not want to reinvent the wheel, or to replicate or to take away from what is currently being done. But we can enhance it by working together to provide a comprehensive online space for learning and engagement with Irish language and Culture. Ultimately by working together we may deliver on Séamus Heaney’s view of the importance of learning Irish:

Not to learn Irish is to miss the opportunity of understanding what life in this country has meant and could mean in a better future. It is to cut oneself off from ways of being at home. If we regard self-understanding, mutual understanding, imaginative enhancement, cultural diversity and a tolerant political atmosphere as desirable attainments, we should remember that a knowledge of the Irish language is essential in their realization –.

We are looking for partners who can connect in and also connect out i.e. those who would like to actively collaborate with us on courses and programmes etc. and also to those who provide local support for Irish language and cultural learning for learners and teachers. Please do connect with the DCU team if you or your institution/network would like to participate, email or if you are interested in providing support to realise the ambition for the Irish language and culture please contact me directly

Reflections on the MaharaIRL Autumn Webinar

By Lisa Donaldson

The MaharaIRL user group met for our first online webinar on September 19th 2017 following on from the success of the inaugural face-to-face meeting in April. The group was founded in early 2017 to build a community to share information, support learning, and aid collaboration on eportfolios across Ireland.

Originating from a small group of pilot leads adopting eportfolios in Dublin City University (DCU), the wider MaharaIRL community encompasses faculty, learning technologists and technical staff from many Higher Education institutions. Attendees from eight institutions were represented at the webinar which was aligned with the theme “Using eportfolios to support and assess students on work placement and to track competencies”.

Anne Stevens, a Learning Technology Leader from New Zealand, presented a fascinating insight to using Mahara eportfolios to track competencies of graduate nurses. Lively conversation ensued around the delicate balance between providing structure and inhibiting creativity when using a template approach with students as well as the positive impact of eportfolio grading on the assessors.


A Q&A session around using eportfolios to support work placement highlighted that the majority of programmes had a work placement element but there was a three way split between those using, not using and those about to consider using eportfolios to support same. Time, technical support, money, and resistance to change were identified as the main impediments to integrating eportfolios.

Fingers were flying across keyboards as those currently using eportfolios in this capacity offered examples of how they were assessing experiential learning and what supports they were providing. Supports referenced included:

  • short videos
  • introductory lectures
  • followup emails
  • FAQ’s, prompt sheets
  • lectures on professional development and critical thinking
  • webinars
  • handbooks
  • weekly supervision
  • online forums, and
  • student eterns

The collaborative nature of the group was evident through the many offers to share these valuable resources.

The majority of cases discussed did not feature a peer-to-peer component but this came out strongly as an area attendees were interested in exploring further. Conversation again turned to templates and whether templating helps or hinders the development of the placement portfolio and digital literacies. Templates, prompts and rubrics proved to be commonly used among the group particularly when first introducing eportfolios to students.

The webinar then moved on to Kristina’s Corner. A specially recorded piece by Kristina Hoeppner (Catalyst IT) on tracking competencies through Smart Evidence – many thanks Kristina. The functionality of Smart Evidence proved appealing and the video was posted online for further review. An earlier and longer presentation by Kristina on this theme is available in the following video…

With time against us, we had a whistle stop tour through attendees Wow moments and Woe moments when integrating eportfolios. Sample Wows included:

  • an oral showcase of final year portfolios
  • student expressing gratitude for the “space” provided by the portfolio, and
  • graduates reporting huge success in securing teaching jobs through presenting their portfolios at interview.

The inevitable Woes featured educators own lack of experience; students not being able to see past the need for technical skills; and a desire to see greater focus on softer skills/graduate attributes.


The webinar closed after an hour of amazing and generous interaction with a suggestion for a next face-to-face meeting/eportfolio day and perhaps a regular Twitter chat. We hope to plan for those before the end of 2017. Watch this space for more information! If anyone would like to join our ongoing conversations around sharing impactful eportfolio practice, please contact

Many thanks to attendees from Dublin City University, Marino Institute of Education, Hibernia College, National College of Ireland, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Sligo Institute of Technology, Mary Immaculate College, and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. 

Footnote: A special “eportfolio Unconference” on the theme of “Integrating Authentic Assessment” will take place at DCU, with funding from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, on Friday, 26th January 2018 from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Click here to find out more information and register for this event.