A key aspect of my teaching philosophy is to encourage debate and critical thinking among students. Living in the age we do, we need to be aware of the wider technological environment and the ways this is shaping public debates. My engagement with technology to assist me in developing teaching and learning is done in a critical manner: technology can be an amazing tool, which can help us communicate and keep engaged with each other and the wider world; but it fails to deliver in critical reflection if it becomes an end to itself (in the many different shapes that this may take, such as efficiency, cost-effectiveness or status).
I teach Critical Perspectives on Irish Health Policy; Contemporary Social Policy Issues; Social Policy Analysis; and Critical Discourse Analysis. I am the Course Director of the M.Soc.Sc. (Social Policy) in the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork. I am involved in supervising undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral students. I encourage critical reflection and discussion both in class and outside.
Blackboard; email; social media; PowerPoint; YouTube; online discussion boards.
Blackboard has allowed me to explore alternative ways of encouraging class discussion. For example, as part of two of the modules I coordinate at masters level (Contemporary social policy issues and Social policy seminars series), students are required to participate in a number of discussions online. These discussions are prompted by a number of questions and supported with relevant materials, including blogs and YouTube videos. Blackboard is also an effective way to mark and review student work, as well as communicate feedback. Furthermore, lecture notes, references, announcements and communication with students has been greatly facilitated by Blackboard. I also encourage engagement with contemporary social and political issues by drawing attention to current debates in social media. The inclusion of examples of media debates makes the material taught more engaging and relevant to our present times and students' lives. I have also successfully recorded two lectures online. While daunting at first, it provides lecturers and universities with the opportunity to engage with far reaching audiences, who might otherwise find it difficult to attend a particular course. It also gives students a more flexible platform to study, which can be crucial for people with caring responsibilities, working and so on. Some of the challenges that emerge from the use of new technology involves the need to use it frequently; otherwise many of the skills learned are forgotten. In terms of teaching and learning, one of the challenges I have encountered with online discussions is that students have been reluctant to challenge each others' positions. Many of these debates unfold as a number of comments on issues raised and questions asked, rather than as a discussion and potential debate where students comment on each others' views.
The potential to communicate with everyone in a class at once is a clear example of the benefits of using technology such as email and Blackboard. This can be done in relation to communicating announcements, but also in the context of providing general advice and overall feedback. Technology also makes it possible to continue critical reflection and discussion outside the lecture environment. In the context of the masters I coordinate, this is crucial, since students are only on campus twice a week, and a lot of the learning happens outside the classroom. It has allowed me to continue communicating with students on an on-going basis. It has also provided with useful platforms for them to continue engaging with each other's progress and work.
One of the challenges I have encountered relates to people's uneasiness with and fear of technology. This applies both to lecturers (including myself) as well as students, who in the context of the masters I coordinate do not always represent a young and technologically skilled cohort. The supports provided by the university can be sometimes limited, and are often left to individuals to tackle with by themselves, for example, in the form of online tutorials, which to many, can also be daunting in themselves. A second challenge relates to the rapidly changing technological environment. As soon as one becomes familiar and comfortable with a particular platform, such as Blackboard, something else comes along, such as Canvas. This applies to university platforms, but also to the wider environment. The myriad of options available can be difficult to navigate and understand for those who like technology. We can only imagine what it is like for those who do not. As regards some of other challenges experienced by students, I have noticed that many of them still prefer an individual response and engagement, rather than general feedback that may be sent to everyone in class. Furthermore, they are not always reassured by what they read on blackboard, and continue to seek oral or email confirmation from lecturers. Finally, one of the challenges that we need to face concerns the view of technology as a resource neutral tool to be used to increase efficiency and income by universities, rather than as tools which also entail a lot of labour at the other end of delivery.
I have found some of the short training courses organized by SPEEDS very useful, such as tools for effective presentations. I have also found small courses provided by UCC very useful, such as the use of Padlet in class, or how to record an online lecture, which was crucial, and was further supported by SPEEDS staff.