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.

allaboard

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’.

lllf

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.

treasurehuntwinners

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.

 hushbunnies

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.

 

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