Lecturer in Social Policy; Director, Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century (ISS21)
My teaching is predominantly in the area of disability policy, theory and practice, social research methods, and social policy debates and processes. I teach across undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, including the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), Masters of Social Work (MSW), MSocSc (Social Policy), and Doctor of Social Science (DSocSc), and supervise 4 doctoral students. I currently teach on the following modules: SS2214 Social Work Practice Contexts: Disability (BSW); SS6202 Social Work Settings 2: Disability (MSW); SS6315 Mental Health and Disability (MSocSc Social Policy), and the eight DSocSc modules which run cyclically, four in Year 1 and four in Year 2 (Year 1: SS7001 Introduction to Social Research, SS7002 Philosophies of Social Science, SS7003 Research Methods and Skills 1: Qualitative, SS7004 Social Policy Debates and Processes; Year 2: SS7005 Research Methods and Skills II: Quantitative, SS7006 State and Society, SS7007 Politics of Social Research, SS7008 Researching for Research and Evaluation). I also contribute occasional sessions to the MSocSc Voluntary and Community Sector Management, and outside of the School have contributed to the MA Cities, Space and Culture (Department of Geography), as well as taught sessions on research methods to postgraduate students in the School of Law. Previous modules taught in the School include SS1102 Social Analysis (BYCW programme), SS2215 Social Analysis in Society I (BA ECS) and SS3031 Social Research Report (BSocSc third year project supervision). Given the applied nature of many of the courses that I teach, I see it as vital to create connections between theory, practice experience and empirical research, to demonstrate how theoretical concepts in the social sciences can illuminate understandings of society, social policy and practice, and similarly, how practice experience and ‘real world’ research can advance social science knowledge and scholarship. Many of the students I teach are mature students or are senior practitioners working in a wide range of social professions, and who thus bring a wealth of personal and professional experience to the classroom, and I seek to draw on this experience in my teaching and learning practices.
My key goal in teaching is to foster a spirit of curiosity and enquiry which enables students to think critically about society, and develops their skills and capacity to be independent, self-directed, learners. I ground my teaching in a constructivist approach, which acknowledges the multiplicity of contexts, perspectives and prior learning experiences that students bring with them into the classroom. I aim to ‘teach for understanding’, such that learning is not about acquiring knowledge or facts in a didactic fashion, but being able to engage flexibly and creatively with knowledge in different contexts, including the wider world beyond the University. I have found technology helpful in providing diverse 'entry points' or 'in-roads' into different topics. as a focal point for students’ exploration and enquiry; it has also allowed students to become self-directed, reflective learners (for example, by asking them to reflect and debate with each other a particular issue through discussion fora). Technology has also helped to build collaboration in student learning practices, and for the doctoral students I teach on the DSocSc, build a 'community of practice' and support network throughout the doctoral journey.
While I do not perceive myself to be particularly digitally literate, I have used a number of different digital methods in my teaching. Core to this has been use of Blackboard, UCC's VLE, which I have used not just as a space for providing information to students, but engaging them in discussion groups, to post blogs, and contribute to (self) reflection on their engagement with different topics. I also use Powerpoint in a lot of my classes, and YouTube clips as entry points to learning/reflection.
I have used technology in a number of ways. On the MSocSc Social Policy Mental Health and Disability pathway, for example, we initiated discussion boards on Blackboard, and asked students to post responses to three topical articles (two newspaper articles and one academic article) over the course of the 12 week module. At the end of the module, students were asked to submit a learning journal, combining what they had learnt based on the group’s online discussion and responses to the articles as part of the assessment. Online approaches have also been a key part of the DSocSc programme, which blends face to face workshop weeks with online approaches. Through Blackboard, I have moderated discussion boards and blogs which have been used to provide a space for students to share ideas around their thesis development as part of an online community of learners, and to maintain continuity between workshop weeks. I use a range of different media in my classes as a basis for triggering discussion, including short films/excerpts from YouTube. For example, in a class exploring societal attitudes to disability on the Bachelor of Social Work, for example, I begin with an excerpt of a film showing an interview with a children’s TV presenter with a disability regarding a media storm in which parents had complained that she should not be on television for fear of ‘scaring’ children. I use this film as an entry point to discussing attitudes towards disability, and conduct a quiz with students about their understandings of disability, which seeks to challenge preconceptions.
I think that technology can hold out the potential to provide more inclusive modes of learning in certain contexts. On the DSocSc, for example, which is a distance learning programme, use of Blackboard (and email) was a really important way to build a sense of community while the students were not in UCC, and a way for them to provide feedback on each other's research ideas/thesis development. The use of a reflective online journal on the MSocSc Social Policy was also an important way for students to engage in a different way with the material that was being covered in the classroom setting. Technology also allows us to engage with students in a more immediate fashion; for example, if I see an interesting newspaper article that is relevant to a module, I can make it available to them straightaway - bringing 'real world' examples into the classroom.
The disadvantages of technology probably lie with my lack of proficiency! Sometimes, I have found instruments such as Blackboard a bit 'clunky' in terms of encouraging participation in discussion groups and fora. In the context of these groups, I think that students can sometimes feel conscious about 'putting themselves out there', and the lack of face to face contact means that sometimes comments presented in an online forum can be misinterpreted. Sometimes also, technology just goes wrong - which can really scupper a class if you are too reliant on it!