PACTing with my professional development: Element 3

This final post on my experience as part of the PACT National Forum digital badge, brings together the conclusion and reflections from the experience, so here it goes!

In Element 3a, the ‘Planning into Action’ section offers a template to facilitate the implications for my professional development practice which have stemmed from this process. This template also invites us to relate to the Professional Development Framework for all that Teach in the Irish Higher Education sector, which has been referred to in my previous posts.

In doing so, I reviewed my reflections during the process which are boiled down to the following:

– My need to carve working relationships based on true collegiality, providing safe spaces to explore and learn

– My equalitarian and (as much as I can) authentic approach to educational development

– My preference for experimenting new approaches within controlled boundaries and due safety

– A growing orientation towards the communicative, collaborative, innovative and digital identity aspects of the National Digital Skills Framework for Education, moving progressively away from the more tool-oriented focus, and with a special emphasis on open educational practices

Through the many enjoyable conversations that we have shared during this process with my EDIN colleagues, I have gained further insights and they have also got to know me a bit better (for example, I found very surprising that one of them was in turn surprised that I claimed to be an introvert). Comfortably sitting with the label of the INFJ ‘advocate’, I am now looking forward to my year of research leave to start new projects and adventures… I promise to come out of the cave every so often!

Now down to actual planning, as opposed to some of my colleagues, who proposed very granual plans for PD, my approach this time is more wholistic and top-level. A core element of my educational developer role hast to do with my responsibility around contributing to the sustainability of my department and institution. I already contribute to this in intrinsic ways (e.g., through teaching in accredited programmes that bring funding or core budget support). I have also contributed by leading successful bids at national level (mainly through National Forum funding). I would like however to explore other sources of support to ennable innovations and conduct reseach. Hence, my plan below:

The final stages of this process involve engaging in conversations with a critical friend with whom I can discuss my identified PD activities and ideas, and then reflect on conversations. This requirement was hugely redundant in our case since we have engaged in this way through the whole process under the leadership of wonderful Fiona O’Riordan, chair of EDIN. We did however avail of this opportunity to have a most interesting conversation in a triad around perfectionism and self-expectations. Also, I had a most interesting discussion with Geraldine Dowling about her progress with the PACT badge, which made me think of the new open doors that can open at any moment in time through an unexpected professional encounter. Our final EDIN group discussion revolved around the possibilities of delivering this badge in our respective intitutions, and what is in for our academics in terms of professional accreditation, and what the possible combinations of integration in accredited processes could be.

The PACT badge is part of a wider national drive towards a teaching accreditation process. We will keep watching the space. In the meantime, I have truly enjoyed the process and mostly my interactions with my lovely colleagues. I could write so much more about how inspired I have felt but in this case, I will honour the work done, will breath through my perfectionism, and since it is Friday afternoon and the sun in shining, it is time to close for now and get my bike.


PACTing with my professional development: Element 2

This post follows on my commitment to the professional development (PD) experience proposed by the PACT National Forum digital badge, which I explained and commenced in my previous post.  In Element 2, the course goes on to propose us to explore and reflect on the Professional Development Framework for all that Teach in the Irish Higher Education sector, which was published by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in 2016. The framework provides guidance for the PD of individuals and gives direction to other stakeholders (e.g. institutions, higher education networks, educational/academic developers, policy makers and student body representatives) for planning, developing and engaging in professional development activities.


The framework incorporates five overarching domains, each expanded through a series of elements. The development of an individual’s engagement with the scholarship of teaching and learning is an integral component of each domain.


The framework is underpinned by a number of values i.e. inclusivity, authenticity, scholarship, learner-centeredness and collaboration. These guide the personal and professional development processes used by individual staff, academic departments and institutions to recognise, inform, enhance and sustain professional development, and resonate, to a great extent, with the SEDA values:

  1. Developing understanding of how people learn
  2. Practising in ways that are scholarly, professional and ethical
  3. Working with and developing learning communities
  4. Valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity
  5. Continually reflecting on practice to develop ourselves, others and processes

One of the most useful contributions of the PDF in my opinion is the typology of the PD opportunities, which includes both accredited, collaborative, structured and non-structured non-accredited activities.

forms of PD

This provides an huge degree of openness and wide mindedness about the ways that we learn in an increasingly complex world, from a lifelong and, in Norman Jackson’s wordslifewide perspective.  The challenge comes however to transfer this openness  into practice in real ways in academic environments that impose fairly rigid expectations on CPD. Practical implementation of the PDF is a challenge when there is no CPD strategy in our institutions, like it is the case in UL. As a start, I made a first attempt at flagging the PDF in my seminar offerings, by classifying them according to this typology, but I decided to pull back as I felt that we need a deeper and more coherent conversation about it.

The self-domain

The uniqueness that each individual brings to their teaching is acknowledged by placing ‘the self’ (Domain 1 Personal Development) at the centre of all professional development activity. This domain emphasises the personal values, perspectives and emotions that individuals bring to their teaching, including self-awareness, confidence, life experience and the affective aspects associated with teaching; and plays an important role in declaring a teaching philosophy and approach. Element 2b of the PACT material invites us to reflect on the PDF from the self in the first place, which I find challenging I must confess.

reflect on the self

While reviewing the videos of what pilot study participants on this badge said, I was delighted to recognise a number of my UL colleagues, and reminded myself of the nurturing academic community that I have the privilege to work with and the importance of something that is very alive in me lately:  carving new relationships based on true collegiality. The call in this domain for  recognising the importance of wellbeing, authenticity and genuine connection in relation to my teaching and learning roles resonates with me in this direction as I struggle to make sense of the hidden politics and agendas of the academic environment, but also to let my voice being heard in it. Also, I remind myself that being dogmatic, self-righteous and intolerant are some unhealthy traits that can become self-defeating patterns for me as I relate to others.

In order to help us through this maze, the PACT material proposes a series of prompts around what is at the core of my educational developer role, this is, my teaching. In this sense, it is important to contextualise that my specialism revolves around technology-enhanced learning (TEL), and this brings many distinctive dynamics around the learner’s self-perceived digital efficacy that I need to be careful with. When teaching, I try to portray myself as a peer and I often say that, technically, I am only one step ahead of the rest of the class, and that I do learn from conversations as much as those sitting opposite to me, and often more! I always approach a learner by first asking about previous experience and current expectations, raising the question what’s in for you? Rarely ‘teaching’, the conversation becomes an interactive dialogue where I try to guide their journey. I try to ‘let go’ of the hand-holding dependency model, recognising that when it comes to TEL, people learn much (and probably better) from their own colleagues, and also that there is no ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to TEL. I am also mindful that those that approach TEL from the first time need to understand its advantages, challenges and dangers. In this sense, I try promote an incremental approach to change which I think is realistic and feasible, rather than evangelical and uncritical, such as advocated by Puentedura’s (Romrell et al. 2014): educators can start making significant changes through substitution and augmentation of current practice, later to allow for modification and redefinition. The way I teach is influenced  by my tendency to reflect and to remain in control of my impulses, so I embed some controlled sense of humour but usually are no ‘fireworks’ displays going on. Instead, I prepare a lot and tend to ‘guide’ learners through carefully thought activities that are unlikely to ‘backfire’, but are intended to get a point across. And most importantly, as much as possible, I try to bring to the surface the ‘practice what you preach’ moto and engage in a level of what I am talking about  (e.g. showcasing a flipped classroom approach when talking about blended learning, teaching in a distance programme in a different university for no pay apart the joy of learning, engaging with open pedagogy by sharing my materials openly in the web or writing this blog, etc)… this is my way to understand and practice authenticity.

The digital domain

From my discussion above, the reader can see that I am naturally drawn towards the digital domain as one that defines and determines my role to a great extent. This domain emphasises the importance of personal and professional digital capacity and the application of digital skills and knowledge to professional practice, i.e., my ‘bread and butter’. The domain is underpinned by the National Digital Skills Framework for Education  that guided the work by the All Aboard project. I constantly engage with this domain through my practice and scholarship, share outputs and educational resources and in turn, adopt and reuse the open educational resources that came out of this project and many others. For example, I am currently using the digital confidence profile as an introduction to a hands-on workshop on the use of the virtual learning environment, and to inform the selection of participants for the Getting started with online teaching online course with we are currently piloting.

digital confidence profile

The All Aboard metro map, poses a beautiful metaphor of the digital skills journey, and is one that I often refer to in my teaching (jokingly adding that the metro is plagiarised from the Madrid underground map which I am very familiar with!).

metro mao.png

The lines of the metro map are based on the domain’s elements, which I find especially relevant since my role has significantly moved away from the ‘tools and technologies’ line in the last two years. From being overburdened with semi-technical queries on the virtual learning environment, I am not enjoying the space and scope to explore my other aspects. The structured unaccredited CPD I provide has moved away from this, and is ‘travelling’ more in the ‘teach and learn’ line. My accredited teaching focuses very much on the ‘communicate and collaborate’, and  ‘create and innovate’ lines. And I also have opportunities to experience the ‘identity and wellbeing’ route, through my engagement with the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival, and my teaching in the distance masters programme in UNED. Another of the areas where I find a growing interest has to do with the importance of engaging with open access in the ‘find and use’ line. This involves the promotion and dissemination of my educational resources and scholar output beyond the classroom and traditional markers of publishing impact. This came about as a result from my work on a research project around Open Educational Resources  at national level. The research question posed us to investigate how digital learning resources could be shared at national level.  To that date, I had engaged in projects with the National Digital Learning Resources (NDRL), but I had not given detailed consideration to the complexities and ethical considerations around the open education movement. The reflections of one of the participants in our study resonated with me particularly:  ‘sharing is what teaching is about. My teaching is publicly funded and therefore I consider the results of all my work a common good which should be made available for free’. The seed was planted on me through that project, later grew through the work on the Take one step campaign, and are currently seeding the way to an Erasmus + proposal that I am really excited about.

Personal insights

To conclude, the PACT material invites us to complete the following two statements as a way to reflect our personal insights:

  • I have learnt the following about how to now plan for my PD for the future…

I suppose that I can say that my most recent projects and collaborations reflect my believe in collegiality, sharing expertise and success (but also stories of failure and private frustrations), because academic environments often promote dehumanising individuality and competition, which I find alienating.

  • I am going to use these planning tools in my practice and here is why…

The All Aboard metro map is a fantastic tool which I will keep using to guide my practice, as it provides me with a welcome open-mindedness about the diversity of the personal and professional digital capacity domain, and came to me as a breath of fresh air after having ‘been locked’ behind the closed doors of the VLE for so long.

PACTing with my professional development: Element 1

In my previous post, I presented ‘Pacting with your own professional development: the National Forum PACT digital badge‘. I volunteered myself to participate, but I only learnt that I needed to complete element 1 in two days time!!! So this is a very, VERY, rough first draft of each of the required criteria for Element 1.

PACT element 1a

I suppose that I can say that my main motivation is developing and sustaining intrinsic motivation in a truly collegiate atmosphere. As I explained in this blog post, my attendance to the introduction session for the PACT badge was motivated by my participation in the development of one of the other badges, so I really wanted to get a sense of where the project is going from Roisin and Terry. I loved the way the PACT badge was articulated and it was clear to me that there was huge inherent value in getting involved. I am at a time of my career where I am reformulating  my own role and my medium and long term motivations, so it is also very timely. However, like most people, I work more efficiently if I have to adhere to a deadline, and specially if I am accountable to other colleagues too! Fiona was very kind to include me in the pilot of the PACT digital badge coordinated through EDIN, which has been such  a collegiate, supportive network for me all along, so no better place to start really!

I love my job (despite its own limitations and inherent frustrations) mostly because I keep on learning everyday, and a lot of that learning relates a lot to myself as a person. I gain inspiration and energy from connecting to others, but as an introvert, this has a toll in me, and need to balance it with time and space for  reflection in isolation. In that sense, the research and CPD element of our profession suits me well, even that both have been a bit neglected in the recent past.

Finally, this first element of the PACT material invites us to think of a metaphor for our PD. I have chosen the image of an octopus. Like many of us, as an educational developer I often feel stretched in many directions, so 8 hands would come very handy. However, octopuses apparently are one of the most clever creatures in nature, which seems to go well with the constant need for learning.  They have a really symbiotic and adapted relationship with their environment and they blend with their surroundings, which is the interaction style that I feel more comfortable with.


PACT element 1b

More than a decade ago, I took a formal MBTI evaluation, which came to identify me as an ISFJ (Introvert, Sensing, Feeling and Judging),  the ‘defender‘, and even went to develop a strengths/weaknesses analysis around it. I fished this document from the back of some old folder:


In reading the description of this type again, and this reflection which I completed at the time, I did not feel truly identified with many elements of it, so I wondered to what extent personality types can change over time. This is apparently not the case, but neuroplasticity can go a long way to make it seem real. So I thought it was worth it to take some follow up blood samples so I proceeded to take the Humanmetrics Jung Typology Test™, which classified me as an INTJ (Introvert,  iNtuitive, Thinking and Judging), and is defined as the ‘architect‘. Again,  something in me did not quite suit well with the  description of this type. I decided to take one final test in the, to find that I am classified as a INFJ the ‘advocate‘.


Third time lucky, the description of this time actually resonated with my current view of the world a lot, and was in complete harmony with my Enneagram personality type (1). In professional terms, quite a few important points jumped at me:

Advocates are likely to chafe under hard-line rules, formal hierarchies and routine tasks. People with the Advocate personality type value diplomacy and sensitivity, and the more democratic and personal their manager’s style is, and the more they feel their independence and input are valued, the happier they’ll be. Advocates act on their convictions, so when they do something, it’s something that has meaning to them – if those actions come under criticism, even justified complaints, but especially unwarranted ones, their morale is likely to tank spectacularly. (…) Though usually idealistic, if they feel in conflict, Advocates can lose touch with that sense and end up all too bitter. But if it’s a balance they can handle, with a little encouragement every now and then, Advocates will be hardworking, trustworthy, and more than capable of handling their responsibilities and professional relationships. (…) Advocates are likely to prioritize harmony and cooperation over ruthless efficiency, encouraging a good, hardworking atmosphere and helping others when needed. While this is usually a strength, there is a risk that others will take advantage of Advocates’ commitment to their responsibilities by simply shifting their burdens onto their more dedicated Advocate colleagues’ desks. (…) It should also be remembered that at the end of the day, Advocates are still Introverts (I), and their popularity isn’t always welcome – they will need to step back and act the lone wolf from time to time, pursuing their own goals in their own ways. An unhealthy version of this tendency may pop up if Advocates sense that their values are being compromised by a more ethically relaxed colleague.

This reminds me of the reasons why I often resent administrative tasks or data mining that serves as a marketing or political tool rather than being of practical use to anyone (e.g. the annual report on institutional results of the student evaluation of teaching, which is only used for promotion purposes). It really puts to the front how important mutual respect in a working environment for me is, and why I resent so much when others trespass this boundary. It also reminded me how personally attached I feel to my job, because I like to think that, at some level, it has a positive impact and a role to play in society. Very insightfully, it also opens my eyes to why I find it difficult to deal with criticism at times, why I find it so difficult to say no, and why I often prefer to work in my little cave in the CSIS building, which stands for Computer Science and Information Systems, but I have come to call the Centre for Socially Impaired Staff (among which I include myself, so no offence ;-D  ).

PACT element 1c

For this activity, I try to be a bit more creative, so I story-boarded what I am planning to do. This is the final (not very impressive) result:


PACT element 1d

And finally, some quick final insights (I promise to get back at this with more time)

What? For me, PD is about lifelong learning, because a life where you don’t keep learning, does not deserve to be lived. As a lifelong learner from southern lands, I truly believes on Antonio Machado’s premise ‘Wayfarer, there is no path‘.

So what? In very practical terms, this is about lifelong employability (nobody knows where we will have to work in ten years, or what we will do), but in personal terms it taps into my intrinsic motivation at my job, and therefore to some degree of my own hapiness

Now what? 1. complete this PD course! 2. start new projects to renew energy, carving new relationships based on true collegiality (already started a good few of those) and 3. to materialize some outputs in my sabbatical year coming up soon.

PACT element complete

Pacting with your own professional development: the National Forum PACT digital badge

No better way to start our professional year than an enjoyable trip to Dublin with a great colleague, and an inspiring CPD session with other educational developers. Of course, there never seems to be time for these kind of treats, especially when the institutional rhetoric often seems to remind you of the sterile, seemingly strategic arguments such as ‘what is the point?’, ‘what does this count for?’ or ‘do I really have to do that?’. In ‘The slow professor: challenging the culture of speed in the academy‘, Berg and Seeber encourage us to risk candour and forge a new type of collegiality based on openness, mutual respect and encouragement; as opposed to political agendas and competition. There is no one single time that the Educational Developers in Ireland Network (EDIN) network fails to provide me with this (and I hope that I have something to offer back), so I decided to face the 6 hours commute in order to attend their first 2018 event, and I was not disappointed.

As part of the certified National Forum Professional Development Digital Badges (all available as open-access materials), facilitators are required to check that earners have met the requirements of criteria required to earn a badge. The criteria has been laid out in the badge metadata document within each of the badge material packages and is also embedded within the digital badge (interested in learning more about digital badges, see here). The workshop was designed to prepare those of us who wish to deliver the PACT – Commitment to Professional Development Digital Badge in our home institutions, and was brilliantly delivered by Dr Terry Maguire (former director of the National Forum) and Dr Roisín Donnelly (who led the pilots and digital badges development around the National Forum Professional Development Framework (PDF).

The PACT badge is conceived as the starting point in the National Forum’s badges constellation,  followed by the ‘Reflective practice in T&L‘ (currently being piloted by Robert McKenna in Griffith College). PACT has been digitalised through a series of Articulate resources including an introduction which sets the expectations of both participants and workshop facilitator, and then dealing with each of the sections of the material. By the way, a number of participants in the event had been involved with the development of other National Forum digital badges, so a suggestion was made that this template was circulated so as to help us to reproduce a similar introduction to our digital badges that is identifiable and branded as a National Forum product.

Three routes for completion are suggested for this specific badge: a. fully self-guided; b. through a two half-day workshops to be organised by the facilitating institution (recommended), or c. through recognition of prior learning (although this option was not discussed at the event). No official pilot has been launched by the badge authors, but  a natural conversation developed around the importance of taking this badge as a learner, before being able to facilitate this. The resulting action point was that EDIN would  organise triads to facilitate this amongst those interested in getting the badge with a view to implementing it in our respective institutions.

Roisin then addressed the next the question in my mind: What is the advised means for reflecting the badge criteria? Any suggested portfolio/eportfolio structure? The section ‘Your professional development portfolio’ of the badge introduction encourages to be creative with multimedia and creative artefacts, and share it openly through a website of your choice:


Of course, we would all like to get our hands on some examples and exemplars, and she pointed us to the PDF pilot, when a total of 45 people uploaded their (finished or work in progress) artefacts… I commenced my own e-portfolio as part of this but I need to align it to the PDF framework, so I hope that the EDIN triads will help me to drive this forward. Personally, I saw some linkages in the material in this badge with feedback that I received on my Senior Fellowship SEDA submission: emphasise the role of communities of practice (criteria 3 of the badge requires ‘To engage in conversations with a critical friend on our PD activities and identify key actions from these conversations), and rescue and reflect on the implications for practice of my MBTI.

Finally, some concrete advice followed in issuing digital badges, which will obviously be essential in organising myself for the pilot of the ‘Getting started with online teaching‘ digital badge, which will be piloted this Spring in collaboration with Hibernia College and Cork Institute of Technology. It is currently envisaged that a date in May will be called with the development teams in order to complete any follow up development work that will emerge from the completed or projected pilots.

The vision for implementation of all these badges is based on a devolved model where centres for teaching and learning in each institution will enable other departments in their institution to implement them in ways that make sense in their own environment. This ‘train the trainer’ model is not without challenges however. The same conversation that I have witnessed in previous digital badges events came up once again: in terms of quality assurance, if the delivery of the badges is devolved to departments, who controls for the quality of the work? Terry recommends that we must remember that this initiative is about recognition, not accreditation. She reinforces their ‘light touch’ approach and affirms that ‘if it gets tangled up in the official ECTS quality assurance accreditation, is going the wrong road’. Of course, the potential implications for recognition of certified badges towards accredited CPD programmes also came into discussion. Some attendants were of the opinion that the best way to promote the badge is to build it in existing programmes and embed them within assessment. I also see some potential for this within our accredited academic development programme at UL, but there is a long way to go still.

In any case, the newly published Higher Education System Performance Network 2018-2020 plan specifically  includes the implementation of the National Forum’s PDF and digital badge initiative as key performance indicators within objective 5 (Demonstrates consistent improvement in the quality of the learning environment with a close eye to international best practice through a strong focus on quality & academic excellence). With further funding from National Forum being ring-fenced for them, it looks like digital badges are to become the ‘cryptocurrency’ in the Irish Higher Education sector in the near future!



Blended and online learning

Don’t you find it painful when you see yourself recorded? I certainly do, and become even more convinced that I would starve as an actor or TV presenter. Disclaimer apart, the material here can be of interest to those of you considering blended learning. My colleagues Emma O’Brien (Management and Development Unit UL); John F Kelly (Centre for Project Management, UL) and Olivia McDermott (Management and Development Unit, UL) also provide their insights into these questions:

  • What does blended learning mean to you?
  • What are the opportunities afforded by blended learning?
  • What are some of the challenges of blended learning?

BL video angelica

The recording took place last year as part a jointly developed SPOC with Oxford University Press in Blended Learning but was unused for the final product, so we obtained full rights to repurpose for dissemination. The interviews have been edited in the context of the Digital Badge initiative of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, and will feature on the Teaching Online badge to which we are contributing in collaboration with Gearoid O’Sullivan and Roisin Garvey from the Department of Technology Enhanced Learning at CIT, and led by Dara Cassidy, Director of Online Learning at Hibernia College. A schedule is being drawn up for the delivery of professional development workshops for the badges in late September, and there will be a piloting stage for the badge delivery, so watch the space!

eMOOCs Vs CreativeHE (and lovely homely stuff)

I am privileged enough to be in a moment of my career when (coinciding with a big birthday coming up) I can afford to look at new areas where I want to develop, that inspire me and make me think. Open education is one of these, because for me, it resonates with sustainable, ethical, relevant and forward looking practice.

One of the most prominent areas around open education has to do, of course, with MOOCs, so when I realised that the 2017 International MOOC summit (where the CEOs of the main MOOC platforms were to meet) was to be hosted in my native hometown, a bare 10 minutes walk from where a grew up, I decided that it was a sign of destiny (ok, the perspective of my mum’s cooking may, only may, have also had something to do).

Since the most prestigious US universities joined the MOOC movement around 2012, these have received a huge amount of attention, paired with equal expectations that they would radically transform higher education as we know it. Five years on, it is obvious that the revolution has not materialised, and the practice of MOOCs has developed in diverse directions. One of the main divergences stems from the focus on the ‘M’ bit: is the course geared to taking over the world through scalability (these have come to be known as xMOOCs) or on the contrary, is the focus placed on a social learning, requiring (obviously) a level of human interaction (cMOOCs)?


MOOC poster April 4, 2013 by Mathieu Plourde licensed CC-BY on Flickr, explores the meaning of “Massive Open Online Courses” aka MOOCs. 

Serendipity wanted that while planning to attend to this conference, I was in discussion with Prof Norman Jackson, who is leading our Contemporary Issues in Higher Education summer module (#TL5003) in our Graduate Diploma in Teaching, Learning and Scholarship. Norman has a vast experience in creative pedagogics, lifewide learning and, amongst many other endeavours, leads #CreativeHE (in collaboration with Chrissi Nerantzi and other like-minded colleagues), a community of creative academics which (they might not agree with this) could be somewhat categorised as the cMOOC type. The next iteration of the course was meant to run during the same week so I signed for the experience in the interest of authenticity and why not, a bit of fun CPD.

DAY 1 and 2

Expectations were hight for the main keynotes in Day 1 and 2. Sir Timothy O’Shea, principal in University of Edinburgh, opened the conference keynote and offered some interesting insights. Many were on the positive side: despite of evangelists having said that the MOOC would be the end of textbooks, they have actually been a driver for more textbooks being produced in his institution. This was counterbalance with the stark statistic that completion rates of (their extremely expensive) MOOCs are only around 6%. FutureLearn claims to be a catalyst of the digitisation efforts of universities, and one way of doing this is through online degrees with open pathways. As an example, the platform has partnered with Deakin to pioneer a full MA degree through Futurelearn, some of it paid and some through MOOCs. In other cases, MOOCs are compensated with university credits. In order to facilitate flipped classroom blended approaches, they are currently piloting a space with looks pretty much like a LMS… A more complete overview of the themes was curated in the #EMOOCS2017 twitter feed, but in general, I got the clear picture that after the MOOC hype, economic sustainability of these platforms and return on investment is the major elephant in the room.


Simon Nelson from FutureLearn quoted Inside HE (2017): ‘Gone are the promises about revolutionazing HE or driving most colleges and universities out of business. In their place is a pledge to work with colleges on how to offer education online and internationally’.

In the meantime, Day 1 of #CreativeHE had started. I found Google + (where the community is hosted) to be very confusing to use. I attempted to engage with the tasks, which invited us to produce creative artefacts to answer to specific challenges, but I found that I was ‘piggybacking’ in others’ creativity (with pictures of murals on the streets) rather than challenging myself with my own, but nevertheless, appetite was opening and I was slowly moving from the internal talk of ‘I don’t really have time for this’.


I found the themes that emerged in my real (i.e conference attending mode) and online world (in #CreativeHE) fed each other nicely (lifelong and lifewide education, the sustainability of the current educational model, and creativity as a ‘must’ for survival, rather than a ‘nice’ addition). The fact that the conference was hosted so close to home (this is, the one where you revert to your teenage bad habits) helped to contextualise things for me in the building where I used sneak in to find a place to study while being an undergrad, I walked back home to my mums’ lovely cooking and to spend time with my family and friends, and in turn, I found that progressively, I could incorporate discussions and memories into my creative endeavours for the #creativeHE tasks. It was all a nice experiential, ‘in the moment’ integration of living and learning on the go. Resources shared in #CreativeHE also informed my growing understanding of the MOOC phenomenon. I was also deepening my critical lenses into this world through posts such as Alan Levine’s ‘The future will not be powerpoint(ed), neither MOOCed‘, and finding reassurance in my remit of power as educational developer and citizen in this world… this, while I sat right next to Tim O’Shea talking about the Limerick weather!



On Wednesday I targeted the discussion panel on social inclusion and MOOCs chaired by @vincentzimmer, which highlights digital exclusion, and were wifi was (arguably) referred to as a ‘human right’. The starting point was that, while MOOCs have been argued as a means for democratising access to education, experience to date has shown that it tends to be used by those with a good level of educational attaintment for CPD purposes, rather than those most in need. As a response, the EU has developed a catalogue of initiatives in MOOCs that facilitate digital inclusion ( This research has revealed that we know very little about the real impact of MOOC initiatives on digital integration. This is not to take away from the potential advantages provided by this model of education. For example, interesting insights followed into gender access. Vincent Zimmer reports their experience breaking cultural barriers to female education in refugee families, where at home MOOC education is making it socially acceptable. Of interest was also the discussion that followed about ‘educational colonisation’ of MOOC platforms based on the northern hemisphere, and the call for partnership approaches as an alternative. The argument is that they are many people that are taking MOOCs now that would not have access to education at all otherwise. The flip side (as argued by Tim O’Shea) is that the progressive reliance on online education poses a greater digital divide in many populations. In conclusion, I left with the feeling that refugees were indeed a focal point through the event, but were somewhat opportunistically used to justify the social value of MOOCs in tokenistic ways, while CEOs of Coursera, FutureLearn and Edx presented their (increasingly excluding) business models in order to sustain the MOOC movement.

In the meantime, in #CreativeHE we got an unexpected day off, as the tragic events in Manchester left everyone with no desire for creativity or fun. At a personal level, I greatly welcomed the the break as the late conference dinner the night before (Spanish style) took a toll on me, and followed the advice to go out and walk in the lovely sunshine. As recommended though, I read Browns (2009) typology of adult learners, which pretty much validates ANY type of activity that we love as valuable learning play. We were also invited to join the relevant #LHETchat which happened to deal with the issue of creativity in HE later that evening, but honestly I completely forgot about it while spending some much needed quality time with my family in the open.


On Thursday, I attended a MOOC design session which resonated strongly with the experience that I underwent through the Epigeum Blended Learning course design:  reinforcing the delivery of information, video production and knowledge testing (strongly relying in T&Qs). There was not much scope really for flexibility or creativity that I could see… reinforcing this view of MOOCs (at least the ‘x’ type) as relying in structured content dissemination. While sitting right next to an expert on MOOC production, I really tried my best to introduce the agenda of creativity and scope for other pedagogical approaches. He gave me a look which made it obvious that his neurological pathways were too settled in a certain direction…


Back in action in #CreativeHE, we were challenged to think about storytelling around ‘threshold concepts’. After much thinking, I just decided to produce a little fun video with recording from my 3 year old and some of her buddies, who are full of joy and fun for learning… surely a threshold concept must include some of that! My post read ‘I am not quite sure if this effectively addresses threshold concepts but probably goes in the right direction… at the age of the actors in this video, most of learning is transformative, irreversible, integrative, bounded and troublesome. With thanks to my small one and friends for their kind collaboration ;-D


Back to ‘real’ (aka teaching) life

On the way back home I reflected on this pretty intense CPD experience a bit. It was certainly interesting to go through both experiences CreativeHE and the eMOOCs conference because my understanding progressively formed in multi-layered dichotomies: directional (bottom-up creativity VS top-down content delivery); economical (free and ‘do-it-yourself’ community in Google docs VS exclusive powerful platforms for a selected few); etc. Rick Yale from Coursera claimed in his keynote that ‘the future of the university will happen in an ecosystem of lifelong learning’, but it remains to be seen if MOOCs will effectively survive to be a part of it. The final message was one of empowerment and freedom: no hype will ultimately decide what kind of educator we will be in the future, the future of education is in our hand (sort of). In any case, some of this insights informed my session for the ‘Sustainable Education’ theme in the Contemporary Issues module that Norman is so successfully leading this week, so that is my little chance, together with this long post (sorry) to share something back.

When One Plus One Is More Than Two

Like anyone else, I lose motivation when, after investing an awful lot of effort on a particular project, its sustainability comes under question (I know, this is real life in Higher Education!). This was the case of the Take 1 Step, which saw six of the most intensive months of my working life in 2016. The funding for this campaign did not materialise however this year, which it had left me wondering of the real impact of ‘flash in the pan’ approaches to funding. When I saw the call for AllAboard2017 (a week-long series of national and regional public events aimed to build confidence in Ireland’s digital skills for learning co-run by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and Ireland’s higher education institutions, and based on the National Framework for Digital Skills), I must confess that I thought of applying twice.


However, as if destiny had intervened, the call for participation with the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival arrived to my inbox. The 7th edition of the festival, which has awarded Limerick the UNESCO Learning City Award in 2017, promotes and supports access to lifelong educational, training, and learning opportunities. This edition run across Limerick City and County from Saturday 1st to Friday 7th April, featuring an exciting line up of over 250 events, all of which are free and open to all under the theme ‘Communities, Connecting, Learning’.


The opportunity to immerse ourselves in this community driven effort made it more real and brought the motivation that I needed… this motivation is somewhat value-driven as I feel the weight to the university as the ‘ivory tower’ syndrome. Around then, I came accross this quote by Ira Harkavy’s which sums up some of my view:

“…our great universities simply cannot afford to remain islands of affluence, self-importance, and horticultural beauty in seas of squalor, violence, and despair. With the schools of medicine, law and education and their public policy programs, universities surely can help out our cities and perhaps – perhaps – even our nation back together.”

So carried by a renewed inspiration, I took the plunge and I am glad to report that this turned to be one of the most exciting projects of recent times! Upon successful financial support, I organised the UL campaign for AllAboard2017, together with my colleagues in the Technology Enhanced Learning Unit  (TELU). Our events were promoted by the organising team of the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival, which was supported by a strong PR/Media campaign including brochures, flyers distributed across Limerick, Website, Social Media (@LimkLearnFest), the Limerick Leader & Live 95FM. We capitalised on the following base of the T1Step twitter account (@t1step); the TELU account (@UL_TELU) and @ULLibrary… while I of course I spammed my followers from my own @angelica_tel account. All Allaboard2017 events were included in the promotional 64 page Limerick Lifelong Learning festival booklet, which was distributed across multiple public locations and businesses in Limerick county (7,000 copies). Also, we produced promotional material for the UL AllAboard2017 events and distributed extensively printed copies in UL and multiple city centre locations.

An initial Showcase opened the festival week on Saturday 1st April offering a wide range of interactive events, activities and workshops, providing a snapshot of what the whole festival week entailed. A stand was set up to present AllAboard2017 UL events, facilitated by our student digital ambassadors. As one of the highlights of the showcase, I organised an e-treasure hunt around Limerick city, where a team encouraged the public to visit the Festival Showcase and develop digital skills on the go while learning about the city.


A total of 18 teams undertook the challenge, and generated a huge amount of attention and media press coverage (as well as being lots of fun to be involved with!). Below is the hilarious account of one of the teams, which went on to complete their digital treasure hunt challenge over the course of two days, after the event was officially over.


The days that followed saw many creative and interesting AllAboard2017 UL events. Librarians at the Glucksman Library, partnering with students of Journalism at UL, guided participants through the media maze in the session ‘Fake news and how to spot it’ on a session held on April 3rd. On April 4th, the session ‘From attics to archives’ helped participants to learn about the care and curation of personal archival materials from experienced digitisation and archives professionals from the Glucksman Library. On April 6th, the ITD division organised the event ‘How to hashtag’ in the Hunt Museum. After a short introduction to hashtags, visitors were invited to take photos with their mobile phones and post them to their social media of choice using #huntmuseum. The event counted with the participation of 41 attendees comprising secondary school, post leaving cert and members of the general public. 

The last day of the festival on April 7th was focused on the theme ‘Online wellbeing and identity’, which is a topic very close to my heart these days. In ‘You and your mobile phone’, I was shocked to learn how addicted I am to my mobile phone with the help of Antonio Calderon. Lucy Smith, Deputy Head at the UL Counselling Service, later facilitated a fascinating discussion on how ‘social’ media actually leads to disconnect and dissatisfaction with life titled ‘Social media: friend or foe?. Finally, in the session ‘You and your digital footprint’, I explored the information that can be found about us all in the web, and offered participants some tips to manage this online trail better. The event generated a huge amount of insightful discussion, sharing of personal experiences and challenges at a deep emotional and personal level, although it was obvious from some of the attendants that they lacked some basic digital competences on the day in order to engage meaningfully on the ‘egosurfing’ task (something that came as a surprise as basic use of a search engine is something that we assume as a basic digital skill in the wider population). Importantly, the event served as an opportunity for members of the public to learn of other digital awareness and skills campaigns run at the local level, and network with the leaders of these respective initiatives.

identity 2

The events had a very positive impact on the initiative team in terms of recognising the advantages of engaging with the broader community, and in particular the enthusiasm of that community for learning. Being part of a broader city initiative felt empowering, as the fact that all events were organised in Limerick city (5 km away from the UL campus) attracted students from institutes outside our own, and people from parts of the city who don’t normally attend university events. It has also opened the door to future collaborative initiatives with the Hunt Museum, Paul Partnership, and the BOI Workbench, which is a fantastic space available in Limerick city for further initiatives. The experience also generated an increased understanding of marketing and PR processes around such events, which will help in future initiatives. The engagement with the city and county was very positive and was an excellent PR coup for the university. In addition, the themes dealt with raise important questions about issues that we need to deal with more explicitly with our student cohorts. Yvonne Lane, coordinator of the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival, provides the following feedback from its Organising Committee: ‘The positive feedback about working with the All Aboard team this year, were particularly the exciting new partnerships and links created. The All Aboard events were also refreshing in their content, being both up-to-date and user-friendly to a general audience and therefore bringing new fresh element to the festival.’ 

At a personal level, I had an opportunity to develop additional expertise by reviewing literature on the idea of digital identity; building on my work on an existing distance masters module on ‘Digital skills and lifelong guidance’ I teach for the Open University in Spain (UNED); and developed networks with colleagues inside and outside UL. I also attended some really interesting events, like the one delivered by Sheila McDonald on ePortfolios in the LCETB Further Education Training Centrewhich I did not know until then. Sheila talked about the responsibility to build digital skills at earlier learning levels in order to capacitate the digital transition of learners progressing into third level education. She made reference to her practices with learners in QQA level 5, which feels so far from my familiar practice at level 9… and however, she talked about deeply familiar issues, in a practical, ‘no-nonsense’ style that I completely relate to. To be honest, many in my home university would consider it a waste of their time to attend to an event delivered by an institution which is not a high-profile research intensive institution, yet, you often draw more ideas, inspiration and support than you think from going beyond the close boundaries of higher education. And ironically, while LCETB has a a functioning centrally supported portfolio choice, this is something that we have not managed to do ourselves yet in our fancy green campus. Hearing Sheila make a call for taking responsibility for enhancing early learners for their lifelong journey was a very refreshing message from the other side: we often complain about the standard and lack of skills of incoming students, blaming it on previous poor conditioning in previous educational levels, but we don’t recognise that we all are an educator community joined in our shared responsibility for promoting lifelong learning. We all need, however, to go about this in really creative ways because invariably, we preach to the converted (only a few attendees per session from our own home institutions in many cases). I often despair about feeling like the only survivor on a desert island… a message of hope from Sheila: yes, it would be lovely to be able to run with this as a team, but it often expands as a ripple effect, get one colleague on board and others will come. In conclusion, I must remark on the energy, enthusiasm and collegiality generated through our engagement with the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival; and the personal satisfaction with engaging and contributing to sustainable education for a wider societal gain.