Postdoctoral Researcher, School of Applied Social Studies, UCC
My current teaching in the School of Applied Social Studies includes delivering a core module on feminist social policy analysis to final year BSocSc Social Science students, online and in-person seminars for doctoral DSocSc students, and supervision of BSc Social Science and MSc Social Policy dissertations. This year, I also worked with colleagues to develop a new online micro credential course on equality and diversity for health and social care professionals. As such, my teaching has included a mix of module development, online and face-to-face teaching, online supervision and assessment and grading. The content I cover (gender inequality, care policy, critical theory) relates to contemporary political and theoretical developments and encourages learners to analyse current social challenges using different political and sociological theories, as well as their own experience. I came to my current role role following 15 years-plus working in policy development, research and advocacy in NGOs and the public service. During my previous career, teaching has been a regular part of my work, including developing modules and guest lecturing. Often this teaching aimed to translate practitioner level social policy knowledge and experience (such as developing campaigns, advocating to politicians, engaging with the media, developing policy and practice recommendations) to a classroom setting.
To me, at the highest level, teaching social policy is about fostering momentum for social change. In my teaching of social inequality, care and health systems and feminist social policy, I seek to support learners to be critical thinkers, comfortable with theoretical concepts and analysis of social problems, which they can apply towards progressive social transformations. While these are complex processes, the outcomes of social policies are apparent in learners’ own communities, and I find that learners can develop nuanced analysis when asked to connect policy with their own experiences. In seeking to teach for understanding, I draw extensively on my 15 years working in policy in the public and civil society sectors. From such on-the-job experience, I develop case studies for learners to test out theoretical perspectives within real-world policy scenarios. I also prioritise opportunities for learners to engage with experts by experience and with practice experts through in-class Q&As or direct research. The pandemic also led to technical innovations in my approach, transitioning to online teaching and mixed online and in-person cohorts and online curriculum development.
I use a range of technologies, including MS Teams, Canvas (including online reading lists, discussion boards, Turnitin, etc), Powerpoint, and resources from podcasts, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and quick surveys/quizzes on Google Forms and other platforms.
The School of Applied Social Studies seeks to support a diverse range of learners onto its programmes, which include full and part-time students, international students, mature students and those in full-time employment undertaking professional or research training. This adds a real richness to the learner body, something which I seek to draw on through interactive and discursive teaching approaches. I believe that careful use of technology can increase student engagement and enable students to become more confident in seeking out new resources to aid their own learning. During the COVID teaching period, when students learned remotely through streamed lectures, incorporating tools such as Mentimeter polling, or Padlet discussion boards enabled students to interact with me and with each other. In face-to-face teaching I find that use of audio/visual resources, from internet memes, to short Ted talks, can be very effective in illustrating complex theories, or to stimulate debate among students. Conducting supervision sessions over MS Teams enables students who are working, or away for periods of time, to engage in ongoing supervision.
I find that clear and engaging PowerPoint slides - which can include links to additional library and online resources - help me to structure my teaching sessions and after the session also provide a good jumping off point as students work to further their knowledge about material covered in class. Canvas provides key spaces to build a repository for students working on their assessments - from additional materials organised by teaching week/topic, to online reading lists supported by the UCC library and discussion boards for students to raise questions, or seek clarification from one another.
Overall, I see technology as a tool to draw on and enhance my teaching and learning approaches. I think it is important to be judicious about the amount of technology used across any session or course. Used well technology can deepen and reinforce learning. But the learning objectives such lead the use of technology, rather than vice-versa, so not to overwhelm students (or teacher!). As we all experience, sometimes technology fails in the moment and we need to continue with the session and continue to provide the information and the space for collaboration which students need to learn.
Engaging with the SPEEDs programme and website has led me to a range of resources which have enhanced my use of technology. I have been particularly inspired to learn how technology is used by others. In UCC, the Centre for Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning provide regular training opportunities on technology for teaching. Their support was particularly valuable when transitioning to remote teaching during the pandemic. I also find the UCC library's digital resources for students conducting research to be particularly well pitched to assist students and grow their confidence.