Helena O’Brien

Helena O’Brien

Teaching interests

This academic year I am currently teaching Communication, Research and Study Skills and Professional Development to first year students. For communications, research and study skills I am preparing the students for academic reading/writing, evaluating and analysing academic journals and the importance of referencing. In addition this subject prepares students to give a presentation and how to effectively communicate in the field of ECEC. Professional Practice brings all of the ECEC modules together and is a workshop based subject. The aim of the module is to prepare students to go into work experience in year 2. I am also supervising undergraduate students who are in their third year of ECEC in Life Long Learning through their Research Projects. I work in the college part time two days a week and on the other three days I work as a behaviour support specialist in a pre-school service for children with Autism. I work with parents and teachers to develop behaviour support plans for children within the service. I have worked in this role for the past twelve years and believe that my knowledge and experience of working on the ground will carry over into my teaching where I can share my previous knowledge and expertise.

Describe your teaching philosophy

After 10 years working in the field of Early Childhood Education and Care, specialising in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and Autism, I felt I needed a new challenge. Lecturing in third level education was always a distant aspiration. The opportunity presented itself and I started as an Assistant Part-Time Lecturer in IT Carlow in 2017. Once I came into my role as a lecturer the panic started to set in ‘How am I going to teach these students?’ For some subjects I was more confident than others but overall I was anxious at the beginning of each week. During the Teaching and Learning 1 module, a turning point for me as a learner and a teacher was when my lecturer posed the question ‘How are the students going to learn?’ It was this moment that sparked my motivation to make changes for my students. I had the ideal that lecturers stand at the top of the class going through PowerPoints that they learn off and add practical examples. I was constantly worried about myself and how I was going to teach. I am now researching this new world of digital and practical pedagogy and the options are endless if not somewhat overwhelming. Learning for me is acquiring new knowledge by being an active participant, using the material and guides from your teachers. I feel learning in itself is motivating. Nothing better than reading a new article and applying it to practice. I want my students to be competent in the field of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). My goal for my learners is to develop the necessary skills to work in the field and reflect on their practice to improve services for young children. Over the past two academic years I have had classes where I am skipping out of the class really feeling like the students’ learned something. Other classes I cringe with every drawn face, yawn and yes, a student falling asleep. John Dewey’s philosophy of reflective thinking has guided me to be proactive rather than reactive and engage in reflection action (Scales, 2008). Why did they not engage today? Was it the material? Was it how I presented it? Biggs and Tang (2011) use a term ‘transformative reflection’, instead of looking at yourself in the mirror as you are, look into the mirror and see the future you, like Snow White! I no longer want to look in the mirror of my classes with students catching up on some sleep and I have already implemented some teaching tools such as: recapping on last week’s class on the white board, linking learning, more class activities and short quizzes at the end of class. In some modules I do rely on PowerPoint presentation too much and this is something that I want to change in the future and focus on more active learning i.e. use a flipped learning approach. At times I have spoon fed my students and not given them work to do however as the years move on I am realising that each student is responsible for their own learning. Each year I have added to my digital repertoire however this is far from complete. Using the different technologies discussed above has added to my teaching and feedback to students however going forward I would like to incorporate more technology to make my classes more interactive by using Kahoot and Socrative to determine how much the students are learning from the material presented. I do acknowledge the positives I am bringing to the class, such as my interpersonal skills. I am respectful and thank all students for their participation and presence in my class. I ask them how they are doing each day and try to get to know them so that they are comfortable in my classes participating and engaging in discussions. I have also observed that the younger students are less likely to engage in discussions than mature students, and this is something that I will have to keep in mind when designing their classes. I have a professional growth plan in relation to teaching and learning. I will continue to use the TLC Staff Hub and take advantage of workshops they provide in my college. I wish to continue with the Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning in the next academic year in IT Carlow.

What technology do you use?

Over the past two years I have used educational videos from resources such as YouTube, TED talks and 4E research documentaries; online resource sharing and communication through Blackboard including discussion boards; online assessment with assessment submission via Turnitin, formative online quizzes with FlexiQuiz and summative online quizzes with Blackboard. Within the classroom I have adopted a Flipped Learning approach in my most recent year and utilising the VLE has supported this approach. All of my students’ assignments are submitted electronically and graded online, thus replacing a portfolio of paper assignments with an ePortfolio.

How do you use this technology?

I communicate with my students through Blackboard. I use announcements on a weekly basis, sharing of material such as blogs/videos/TED talks, lecture notes, academic journal articles and more. For example the students all completed readings of the Quality and Regulatory Framework (TUSLA, 2018). This information was shared via a link to TUSLA’s website. Following the reading the students logged onto FlexiQuiz where an individual password was set up for each student. Students had to complete a quiz on the readings and do as many times as they wished resulting in 100% criterion. There were some challenges with the quiz and if students did not type in a word exactly it would display as incorrect even if they had the correct answer. At times this seemed to de-motivate the students as many discussed this in class. The students particularly enjoyed watching the documentary Old home for 4 Year Olds on E4. The students watched the first episode at home and we discussed it in class. This was a practical example of research and the students were more readily able to discuss research in terms of methodology, results and critical analysis. Using the flipped classroom approach the students were invested and interested in the class discussion from the start. I have also found Turnitin very useful for marking assignments and enjoy how there are a range of mediums to provide feedback to students. Upon starting in IT Carlow I found it difficult to hand correct and write feedback by hand on the assignments. Following Teaching and Learning 1, and specifically a workshop on Turnitin, I discovered the benefits of providing feedback through this medium. During my feedback I comment on the assignments throughout, provide a mark and general feedback. On occasion I have used the audio for feedback but overall find the written feedback easier to do. For future modules, I would like to learn more about embedding my Rubrics within Turnitin.

What are the advantages to using this technology?

In the long run I believe that technology will enhance the students learning and make my job more efficient so that I have more time to plan and prepare. Using Blackboard I can take students’ attendance, track their usage of the material and post discussion boards and quizzes to assess their learning. Technology helps me to track students’ participation through the likes of attendance, draft Turnitin submissions and use of materials provided. If a student is struggling I can check to see what resources they are availing of and offer advice of what would support their learning going forward. With colleagues I have shared different online quizzes that we work on and then share which helps the program we deliver collaboratively. This both saves time and encourages peer learning for my own professional development. I have found Turnitin very beneficial and use it for students to upload their assignments, for similarity checks and to mark and provide feedback for the students. Rather than the students submitting a paper copy they upload their assignments and once marked can log in to receive the feedback which I have given through voice message and/or written feedback.

What are the disadvantages to using this technology?

I found Blackboard very difficult to navigate when I started lecturing in the college in September 17. However completing the Teaching and Learning 1 (an introductory module on the Masters in Teaching and Learning) was invaluable and gave me the confidence to use the technology that was provided to my advantage. I was not used to correcting paper assignments and the module guided me in using Turnitin and all of its features. The main disadvantage for me is the time it takes to learn and implement a new technology. As there are so many different types out there it can also take time to choose the one that suits your teaching and the students learning. I have attempted to overcome this barrier by availing of the SPEEDS project and my mentor.

Which training resources helped you in this work?

In my first year of lecturing I completed Teaching and Learning 1 which is an introductory module to the MA in Teaching and Learning. The module was broken up into practical and digital pedagogy enabling me to explore the importance of both in my professional development. In addition I took part in different workshops that were held across the year and utilized the online resources on the Teaching and Learning Centre’s TLC Staff Hub on Blackboard. This included many step-by-step guides and how-to videos. I have also availed of the personal support of our TLC staff and have found their support extremely beneficial, for both ideas and as well as using different technology.


Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. 4th Ed, Berkshire: Open University Press. Scales, P. (2011). Teaching in Lifelong Learning Sector. Berkshire: Open University Press. TUSLA. (2018). Quality and Regulatory Framework: Full Day Care Service and Part-Time Day Care Service. Dublin: Early Years Inspectorate, Tusla.

Funded by

Speeds HEA
Speeds HEA
Speeds HEA