Karolyn McDonnell

Karolyn McDonnell


"I think it is important to take the opportunity to use technology and have the confidence to make mistakes with it. It may be a process of trial and effort at the start but the benefits at the end are huge."

Teaching interests


I teach supervised professional practice in the Social Studies - Applied Social Care programme. This involves teaching professional skills and preparation for placement modules including Ethical Practice, Responsibility and Accountability, Communication Skills and Reflective Practice. I am interested in a community model of education, flexible and responsive to learners needs in the understanding that all learners have something to contribute. Competencies such as interpersonal communication, social and civil engagement and critical thinking and problem-solving skills are important by-products of engaging in higher education.I believe that developing these graduate attributes are huge part of a learner’s journey through higher education and that those who teach in higher education have an important role to play in shaping learner’s confidence and skills to develop these attributes.

Describe your teaching philosophy


I hold a philosophy of students as partners. There are many apprehensions and uncertainties with Higher Education. If learners are taught to approach their studies with confidence, are advised of the supports and guidance that will help them to take autonomy of their own learning, and have clear expectations and responsibilities articulated at the outset, a mutual respect between teacher and learner, and learners together, will emerge. Effectively, if the student is supported with the foundations of engaging with learning, and treated as an equal, they can focus systematically on their studies. Communication is key. At times there is the assumption that adopting a common sense approach will ensure all learners will simply learn. This is not the case. I believe with a confident, targeted approach to using technologies all learners will reap the benefits. One of the most important components of using technology in teaching and learning is the foundational work, or instructional strategy. How the technology is introduced so that learners do not focus on grappling with the technical aspects of the application or software, rather they focus on the task or learning. This in itself can be challenging as the instructional strategy must not become the focus of the task, rather an enabler towards the learning objective. I think it is important to take the opportunity to use technology and have the confidence to make mistakes with it. It may be a process of trial and effort at the start but the benefits at the end are huge.

What technology do you use?


I use Blackboard and have tried out most of its functions. I’ve used Mailchimp; Qualtrics; PowerPoint; Excel for data analysis, to organise information and to create charts; Mendeley and Zotero for research. I have some limited use of SPSS and I have presented virtually using Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate and Skype.

How do you use this technology?


I have used as much functionality of the Blackboard VLE as possible. I have created quizzes in Blackboard, and I have used it to communicate with students by creating announcements, advertising events and making appointments. I have uploaded recommended readings and videos to students using Blackboard and created links to external sites, events and articles of interest. I have also posted grades to Blackboard. I have embedded rubrics into Blackboard to help students easily reference how their marks are allocated in an assessment and guide them in completing their assignment. In addition to this, I learned how to create screencasts and made a screencast on how to create a rubric to embed into Blackboard to assist other teachers. I created a discussion board platform for use with students from years 1, 2 and 3 throughout two semesters, at one point there were over 180 learners participating in asynchronous online discussion in groups of 4-5 learners, I was responsible for the technical set-up and troubleshooting of the process, as well as grading the student reflective accounts on the AOD. I have used PowerPoint extensively to display visual material to classes and many conferences, with short and long presentations on my thesis topic as well as a national call to action for student engagement and a small-scale project on data analytics. I created e-newsletter through Mailchimp to interact with students as well as social, youth and community sector personnel. This was distributed to over 600 students on three campuses and included links to useful social, youth and community news, blogs, job advertisements and readings. I have used Qualtrics and Survey Monkey for institutional and sector consultations; these have been used by students through their email accounts and have been completed through their mobile phones.

What are the advantages to using this technology?


Connectedness and connectivity: One of the most important lessons I learned through my student HE experience was through a professional placement where there was a clear disconnect between my role as student of the institute and my role as a worker on placement. Using Blackboard helped to bridge this disconnect between college and working life. Blackboard is a useful digital space to communicate with learners to foster connectedness and there are many useful functions to do this. General messages can be posted to all learners but also, because of the nature of social and community work, it is always helpful to embed links to sites where students can learn more about what is happening in the social and community sector. It is also useful to highlight what is happening across the institute, as tutorials and events can be posted for students’ attention. As a learning resource, I’ve uploaded journal articles, videos, recommended readings and class notes into Blackboard for students to reference. Data analytics in Blackboard are useful to identify learners who are accessing material most frequently and see which articles and announcement capture the most interest. More importantly, I can also identify learners who are not engaging, and intervene to offer support where necessary. I have used PowerPoint to design presentations. At first this was difficult and time consuming, but after practice it takes much less time. This is a process of using the programmes and getting used to different functions, different animations and transitions and learning how to embed videos and links to make these presentations more interesting and engaging. This is a really useful use of technology, as capturing learners’ attention and getting key messages across can be difficult. For short presentations, a good visual makes all the difference! I believe that there are so many benefits to using the right technology for the job, but it is important to emphasise that the technology is a tool to enable and support good teaching, it doesn’t replace it. It allows for teaching to extend from the classroom and offers learners flexibility in how they learn. It offers more potential for collaboration and communication between teachers and students, and students together.

What are the disadvantages to using this technology?


Some disadvantages are that teachers and students can be inconsistent in how they use Blackboard. For example, some teachers may prefer to announce only during face-to-face teaching time, or through email and this is an inconsistent approach. Alternatively there may be an over reliance on the technology to supplement classroom teaching, when it is there as a tool to support good teaching. Students may find that there is information overload. One big disadvantage is that learning the technologies can be time consuming. It may seem that the effort extended to learn something new is not worth the benefit that the technology promises. But the technologies get easier as you use them and in many cases, it is simply a reorganisation of time to learn the techniques.

Which training resources helped you in this work?


I completed a Teaching and Learning MA module at level 9 which included an introduction to practical digital pedagogy. This programme incorporated VLE course design, how to use the grade centre, how to use online quizzes in teaching, how to submit assignments with Turnitin, how to design effective presentations with PowerPoint and how to create screencasts. I had previously completed the ECDL. The Teaching and Learning Centre in IT Carlow is very supportive. The team have been encouraging the use of technologies and sharing practice throughout departments in using useful technologies to enhance teaching across the institute. They regularly offer workshops and support in all aspects of teaching and learning and update Blackboard regularly with announcements and advice. There are many useful resources online including Lynda.com and many instructional guidance sites and resources to use to support technology enhanced learning. I represent the Institute of Technology, Carlow on the Teaching and Learning in a Digital World National Advisory Board, which is currently refining its terms of reference; two high-level aims are: to consolidate and continue to lead ongoing efforts to enhance the digital skills, confidence and competence of all those who teach and learn in Irish higher education; and to rearticulate a national vision for digital teaching and learning which is collaborative, responsive and adaptable to institutional contexts.

Funded by


Speeds HEA
Speeds HEA
Speeds HEA