Assistant Lecturer in Psychology
At undergraduate level I teach Introduction to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology and Psychology; Adjustment and Positive Change. These subjects are taught to Early Childhood Education and Care, Youth and Community and to Applied Social Care students, all of whom are professional education courses. At MA level I teach Applied Psychology to students undertaking the Master of Arts in Child, Youth and Family Studies. I supervise undergraduate early childhood students and a research master student. I am very conscious that due to the professional educational requirements of my students that I need a variety of techniques to allow for explanation of applying theory to practice. I am interested in using interactive techniques to give context to my teaching, I want students to understand that engaging in professional practice involves evidence based practice. Therefore this requirement shapes how I approach specific topics in order for transfer of knowledge from a theoretical framework to real world application to be facilitated, with very obvious emphasis on the service user.
Within my teaching I try to encourage and empower students by nurturing an interest in knowledge acquisition, particularly independent learning through theory, critical thinking and evaluation. I believe for this to happen it is my responsibility to create the appropriate learning environment. Through explanation, guidance and support, students should develop the skills necessary to complete work independently and be active participants in their learning journey. I would like students to leave believing I did more than present information, during their academic journey that I put time and effort into developing skills to aid this process and they were actively involved in the process. Current student groups require more than dissemination of information. Effective techniques need to be used to connect with and engage students, and I believe technology as a teaching and learning tool can aid this practice when used appropriately. Online quizzes when used in as both formative and summative assessment allow for an acquisition of knowledge that can help develop base level concepts at an early stage of undergraduate study.
The digital collaboration I undertook with Damien Raftery of our Teaching and Learning Centre in the academic year 2017/2018 was the setting up of a class Twitter account. Personally, I wanted to take classroom content outside the specific classroom environment and move to a space regularly used by students, the online arena. My intention was to use Twitter to retweet content that had specific relevance to the material covered in class. My current teaching includes year 1, year 3 and year 4 on the Applied Social Care Degree, students may exit at year 3 with a Level 7 degree or Year 4 with a Level 8 degree. Year 3 and year 4 content is specific to mental health and mental illness, therefore the Twitter account is more specifically aimed at years 3 and 4 and mental health specific content. Due to the fact that some students exit at year 3, I felt that introducing them to Twitter was not only important for class content but for a professional presence, as it is a space regularly used by other academics and potential future employment agencies for social care workers. Therefore the use of Twitter was two-fold, to supplement class content by engaging students with current research and debate but also to make them aware of a public presence online that is suited to professional development. In fact, in the student feedback on the Twitter account, one student commented “it retweets a lot of interesting twitter accounts”; my hope is that this will encourage students to follow the accounts I am retweeting. Damien and I began by discussing the most appropriate social media platform to use (Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn). We decided on Twitter due to its role as a microblogging platform and set up @psycarlow. We discussed the implications of Twitter use, such as advising students that retweeting content did not necessarily imply endorsement. It was to be used as a tool for discussion of content tweeted or retweeted. We discussed the use of a classroom hashtag but to date I have not adopted this use. Following student feedback from last year when I retweet a comment now I direct which year group specifically the content is relevant to. I have also had students mention me in their tweets to draw my attention to appropriate content that I have then retweeted. Discussions with Damien did include whether to retweet all content students suggest, but to date, students drawing my attention to comments has not been excessive and all content they have suggested has indeed been appropriate to class content. My interest around using a social media platform such as Twitter was to be able to get students to engage with appropriate content outside of the formal classroom setting. For me, this meant following Twitter accounts with relevance to the class material, organisations such as Bodywhys (The Eating Disorder Association of Ireland), AnaLiffey (harm reduction and rehabilitative drug services), The Mental Elf (mental health research), and individuals such as Amanda Fitzgerald (Assistant Professor of Youth Mental Health) and Shari McDaid (Director of Mental Health Reform). By exposing students to information being disseminated by these Twitter accounts, the hope is that not only do they get the relevant information but they also come to recognise key organisations, policy makers, government bodies and public figures that influence their professional area. To date the @psycarlow follows 332 accounts and is followed by 149. Some of these followers include Tony Duffin (CEO of AnaLiffey), Please Talk (an agency that connects third level students to support services), Amanda Fitzgerald as mentioned above and numerous students. To address frequency of tweeting, I did not set myself a hard and fast rule around when and how many tweets to have within a specific time period. Instead, I have let myself be directed by specific class content. For example, we happened to be discussing substance misuse a number of weeks ago and there was a lot of online discussion around the legalisation/decriminalisation of cannabis happening at the same time, both here in Ireland and the UK. Numerous posts were retweeted in succession as they added to debates we were having in class around the implications of both ideas. At certain times of the academic year the account is quieter, particularly coming up to Christmas, as students are very engaged with assignments and exam preparation and the same level of interaction does not happen. In very practical terms, Damien advised on how to embed this into the VLE for all students to access, as not all students were on Twitter. Throughout the “settling in” period of trying to get students to engage with Twitter, Damien and I had numerous conversations regarding how it was working. Toward the end of the last academic year, we collaborated on the evaluation of Twitter as a teaching aid; we applied for, and were granted, ethical approval. Specifically Damien advised around the use of Qualtrics for data collection and analysis. Once the data were collected we also collaborated on the presentation of this information at the EdTech 2018 conference held here in IT Carlow. As I presented through Gasta format, it allowed for collaboration with colleagues in other academic settings. This analysis was also presented at the Dariah Ireland 2018 conference, where I sat on a panel with a number of others involved in the SPEEDS project to discuss the findings with other interested parties.
My current teaching practice includes the use of VLE (Blackboard), e-mail, Twitter (@psycarlow), PowerPoint, mobile phones for a variety of interactive quizzes (Socrative, Kahoot, Quizlet), Padlet, screencasting and Blackboard Collaborate. From September 2018 myself and other members of the Department of Humanities have been using the new electronic attendance monitoring system through Blackboard.
For year one students, it is important that they receive feedback within the first six weeks, therefore to facilitate a small assessment for a large number of students an online in-class quiz was set up through the VLE. Course content in the initial weeks of year one includes discussing six perspectives within psychology; therefore the in-class assessment designed was an MCQ worth 10%, administered online addressing these perspectives. In order for students to become familiar with using online quizzes, I set up a practice quiz in the VLE prior to the official test. I adjusted the practice quiz numerous times to add additional content as we covered it. To scaffold the process I began by getting students to use the practice quiz in class, this was to help overcome any technical issues around using the interface. Any issues around logging into the VLE, using the app or logging in through a browser were discussed, as the different interfaces display the content slightly differently. Statistics tracking on the VLE allowed me to check who was using the practice quiz in their own time. Having this information allowed me to go back to the class to encourage students to use it and re-emphasise the importance of being familiar with the interface and the type of questions it presented. I had everyone attempt it a number of times in the classroom environment to ensure, as much as possible, people understood the interface and layout of assessment. By having students use this technology in the classroom, as a practice test, we could discuss the answers to the questions and therefore it allowed a formative learning element to the overall assignment. With respect to the digital collaboration and to move toward engaging with students through social media, I set up the @psycarlow Twitter account and Damien then took me through the process of embedding this in the VLE through the use of widgets on Twitter. It was important to us to embed it on the VLE as not all students use Twitter but all students needed access to the content. At the beginning of this academic year (2018/2019) Damien got in contact to advise that the widgets we had used to embed Twitter no longer worked. He advised on the following steps to ensure Twitter remained embedded in the VLE • Go to https://publish.twitter.com • Paste your Twitter account URL in the box • Choose Embedded Timeline • Set customisation options if the default isn’t what you want • Click on Copy Code • Then go to Blackboard where you want the Twitter feed and paste the embed code using the HTML button. Another practical piece of advice that I got was to set up a specific e-mail address for the Twitter account. As you are setting it up for academic purposes it may not be appropriate to use personal email addresses, our Computing Services department facilitated me with a specific email address and this was then synced to my other IT Carlow email address.
As with any assessment, the original set up involves thinking very specifically about the information that needs to be assessed and how the information can be phrased in an MCQ format. The use of the practice quiz alongside the official assessment allowed for both formative and summative components. The practice quiz was extremely beneficial as it allowed for formative assessment within the classroom, as I went through the questions after students had attempted it. In the official test, once the students hit submit, they got their results instantly so no time lost between submission and correction. In setting up the quiz, I came up with a bank of 40 questions across the six perspectives. As the assessment was worth 10% of overall grade, I decided that of the bank of 40, I wanted each student to have to answer 15 questions from a selection of the perspectives. There were great advantages to the use of “pools” in setting up the quiz. As there were six perspectives to be covered, I set up six “pools” of questions. The quiz edit options allowed me to select how many questions from each pool I wanted students to attempt. I wanted to ensure that students received a larger percentage of questions from certain perspectives/pools as they contain concepts that are essential for further development of knowledge within the course. Therefore, from certain pools, I allocated that I wanted students to receive five questions of the 15 but only three of the overall 15 from another pool. I then selected the option to randomise the questions. This ensured that each student received a different order of questions from each pool. For example, each student received five questions from a particular pool but the questions they received were in different order, therefore attempts at copying were reduced as much as possible. Another advantage to this technology is the ability to share it. As the Applied Social Care course is taught on a full-time and part-time basis, once I had set up the quiz in my own VLE course, I could then add it to another lecturer’s VLE course. Where standardisation might be a key requirement across a certain module, this option is very helpful.
Once set up the technology is very easy to use. The set up involves uploading the questions to the VLE and then creating the individual pools which can be time consuming at the beginning. However once the questions are uploaded they can be used in different formats. While I don’t believe there are specific disadvantages to using the technology, there are certainly concerns that need to be addressed in its administration. For example, ensuring that when using a device that students stick to the VLE screen on phone and do not access other content. I found that as the duration of the quiz was short (20 minutes) the time it would take to move between screens to access additional content was unlikely; having a second invigilator present to act as monitor was helpful. Timing a practice test with students also helped to determine the appropriate time needed. Another issue to consider is if there is a technical problem; for example, I had one student who could not find the test on the VLE, however I had prepared a number of paper versions should any difficulties arise. In essence, concerns/disadvantages to this technology can be reduced with prior preparation and foresight.
I have a strong desire to encourage interaction and dialogue around topics, trying to take them out of the classroom and an exam-focused setting into real world topics, issues, policies, commentaries and applications. Through discussions with colleagues such as Damien, I was able to consider how students could receive appropriate information outside the classroom environment. My current teaching and learning practice is strongly influenced by the idea that we get students to explore subject areas for themselves and engage in meaningful debate. Personally, I felt technology was a tool that would bridge the gap between what I wanted to achieve and what I was currently able to achieve in my teaching practices to date. It has to come down to the suitability of the technology for the purpose required and it was through collaborative discussions this this was appropriately addressed. Overall, as a number of staff in IT Carlow are using technology as a teaching tool, there has been a lot of knowledge transfer between colleagues. For example by discussing with other colleagues in my department I have learned that online VLE quizzes work well with first year students and so have incorporated that in my teaching. For Twitter specifically I have found that other staff members were also struggling with taking content outside the classroom and continually exposing students to real world applications of theory and content. Discussion with Damien were invaluable in terms of setting it up and managing it appropriately.
In the provision of human services, particularly in the applied social sciences, alignment with evidence-based practice (EBP) is of paramount importance (Hall, 2008; Paynter, 2009). Sackett et al (1996) look at EBP as the basis for providing care for individuals based on the best current available evidence. As a psychology lecturer on an applied social care degree, I feel the burden of ensuring students understand EBP relevant to mental health for the clients they will work with and for themselves in a professional area with high burnout rates (Gray-Stanley & Muramatsu, 2011) The challenge begins by ensuring students are exposed to current relevant research, in a bid to foster enhanced learning. So, in the interests of exposure one must move to where students are: online! Not only is this increasing exposure to appropriate content but it provided me with a social presence in a virtual world and much of our teaching practice is based on Vygotsky’s (1978) theories on the importance of social interaction for cognitive development. While students have a large online presence, only 28% of adult social media use in Ireland is through Twitter (IPSOS MBRI, 2017). This statistic also needs to be considered in terms of the lecturers’ approach to social media, as O’ Keeffe (2016) found, higher education professionals can be hesitant to have an online presence. This presence can also vary dependent on interaction, as White and Le Cornu (2011) identify, it can range from visitor to participant, something that was apparent in the O’ Keeffe (2016) study. However, some academics have embraced the move to social media and are making use of online platforms, particularly Twitter, to highlight their current research (Veletsianos, 2011). Twitter has been found to be an effective supplementary classroom tool (Rinaldo et al., 2011) and to have a positive effect on engagement and grades (Junco et al., 2010). In a review of research looking at Twitter use as a learning tool, it was found that it had a positive effect not only on student learning but also on class dynamics (Dhir, Burgagga & Booreqqah, 2013). Therefore, to move online but in a research specific context, a @psycarlow Twitter account was set up. However, there is a note of caution around getting students to engage initially. In line with the visitor topology as devised by White and Le Cornu (2011), previous research has found that students can find engaging on Twitter in an academic lens daunting at first (Bista, 2015) and they often use it more as a passive tool (Knight & Kaye, 2014). Research tells us that the key to using it is overcoming student barriers by developing novel ways to have them interact with it at the beginning (Rinaldo, Tapp & Laverie, 2011).
Within IT Carlow I found the professional development workshops, online resources (including how-to videos) and personal support of our Teaching and Learning Centre to be extremely beneficial, both for ideas on why and when to use the technology as well as the practical ‘how to’ digital skills. Specifically on online quizzes, the VLE Blackboard and its option for Tests, Pools and Surveys was easy to use. Ideally, you should identify open access resources that may benefit other practitioners, and in particular those developed through the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, such as: Transformation through Collaboration (http://www.digitalchampions.ie), TELU (http://telu.me), and All Aboard (http://www.allaboardhe.ie). With respect to digital collaboration and the use of Twitter, online newspaper articles such as Teachers on Twitter: why you should join and how to get started encouraged me that others were also trying this out. Another helpful information around microblogging came from the TELU course Communicating with students online using Microblogs. In practical terms the Twitter help page was useful, particularly if you do not overly familiar with Twitter as a social media platform https://help.twitter.com/en/create-twitter-account. Another practical resource is http://www.edudemic.com/guides/guide-to-twitter/, very helpful in terms of hastags and other Twitter specific rules of engagement.
In the digital collaboration project on the use of Twitter, the challenges and my teaching and learning practice as addressed in Q6 inspired my move to social media, encouraged by others use in the area. By signposting students through retweets to current discussions happening in relation to content specific to their career areas, my hope was that this interaction and dialogue would be naturally facilitated. In many instances this happened, students were able to talk about a topic because they had read the tweets, it gave bite size versions of information already received in class or added to discussion already addressed in class.
To gauge student feedback on the use of the Twitter account, Damien and I developed an online questionnaire through Qualtrics. As this software was relatively new to IT Carlow, Damien began by explaining how it worked to collect and analyse data. The questionnaire was sent to students through a link in the VLE in April 2018. Over a 12-day period, 32 students from year 4 answered the questionnaire. Looking at the data received, 58% of those students who responded had Twitter accounts, two students joined Twitter specifically to follow the account. Of the students who had Twitter accounts, 40% used it to read other tweets and not to specifically tweet themselves. This is in line with the research mentioned above by Knight & Kaye (2014) where Twitter is often used passively by students. 56% of respondents have looked at Twitter through the VLE but not regularly. Over 70% of respondents, agreed, somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that the information being retweeted was interesting. When asked for a comment on what students found good about the Twitter account, positive student responses included: • “helped me understand the topic we were doing in class” • “promotes awareness of issues such as suicide and mental health” • “really informative, great way of alternative learning” • “I liked how it linked in to real life examples and stories surrounding mental health experiences and research” A number of comments fell into the very practical use of the information being tweeted: • “more access to relevant information on a number of topics” • “links to research which can be used for exam purposes”, • “providing links to research studies” I was pleased to see that students could see these practical benefits to the account, using up to date research to provide the basis for assignments and exams is a great offshoot of the Twitter account. Students were also asked for suggestions to develop the Twitter account. Feedback included: • “make people join in at the beginning of the year and ask them to check it regularly” • “maybe to use the ‘add poll’ section on twitter (when creating a tweet) to have as mini ‘pop’ quiz which has multiple choice options to questions related to psychology. This could keep students updated and interact more with the twitter page, in a fun way?” • “keep it going, I find it a great help in continuing evidence based learning and applying it to topics” • “ask students to retweet more” • “when retweeting stuff [you] should RT & leave a comment with it to grab students attention, I tend to scroll past a lot of the posts as I didn’t realise it is this account RT’ing it and just think it’s an irrelevant article” In addressing this feedback, I have started to specifically direct student groups to content so more retweeting with a comment than just retweeting. I think the poll is a really good idea but to date I haven’t started using it but I intend to. I also strongly agree with the first comment and redirecting students to it regularly, which I felt I was I think I need to be more explicit in directing and following up that people have read the posts. The suggestion around student retweets is also very important, again I believe the problem with having students do this is that they use Twitter is a passive way but getting them to retweet without providing personal comment might be the right start for them to using Twitter more frequently and having that active online presence. A number of comments addressed moving to a different platform such as Facebook or Instagram: • “it could be put across more social media platforms to get a greater number of students engaged” • “I don’t have twitter I think a facebook page. Would it be better as can see it more often” While I see the practical merit to this suggestion, a greater number of students seeing the post, based on original discussions with Damien, I still believe that Twitter is the most appropriate professional platform to use for my teaching and learning aims. Based on the research around Twitter, mentioned above such as Rinaldo, Tapp & Laverie (2011), I have come to understand that it is something you have to “sell” to the students as part of professional development as much as being part of my teaching and learning strategy. Again student suggestions around novel ways to get them to interact, such as the use of polls is definitely worth considering.
As I mentioned in my presentation at the EdTech conference, at the end of the first year using it I felt I had moved from chirping to chittering and would progress to full blown Twittering in the next academic year! The newspaper articles provided above definitely whet my appetite to begin the use of a Twitter account and my personal belief that it would complement my current teaching practice led me to discussions with Damien. I would strongly recommend watching the TELU video linked above, whether you are a novice Twitter user yourself or highly proficient, as it gives an understanding of Twitter as a microblogging platform for classroom use. As mentioned above, you may need to think about your own online presence and how active a participant you are. It has certainly been a learning curve; I believe using a social media platform is definitely a use of technology that requires collaboration. It has been extremely beneficial to have Damien within our own institute to have conversations around how the account would be used, for example using classroom hashtags, ensuring students understand that retweets are not endorsements and retweeting student content. Spend time thinking about the type of content that you want to present to students, as this will influence the accounts you follow. While I began with the idea of just presenting them with current academic research, I have found the debates and commentaries to be extremely useful. When the account is set up be prepared to spend time educating students on Twitter use, there may be students who do not have accounts or don’t understand its purpose. Therefore you will need to begin having the feed on display in class, show them functions around “liking” and “retweeting”, who to follow, how to follow and more. This all takes time but based on student comments, such as “make people join in at the beginning of the year and ask them to check it regularly” I now appreciate that this is time well spent to ensure the use by more students and their more frequent engagement. There needs to be constant re-directing toward it and the content needs to be addressed in class to get students in the habit of engaging in with it. As noted the fact that in Ireland only 28% of adult social media use is through Twitter (IPSOS MBRI, 2017) means you will need to think about embedding it in the VLE alongside redirecting and encouraging them to set up their own accounts. This was addressed in student feedback “I don’t have a Twitter account, however the content that was showed to us during class was useful and interesting”. In terms of the feedback, after setting it up I would encourage you to get student feedback, as for me the simple suggestion of directing different year groups through the comments has been helpful. Also in terms of fertilising other lectures interests, over 55% of respondents to the survey agreed that they would like to see Twitter accounts for other classes and these are now emerging within IT Carlow. Give it a try and persevere with it, it’s a slow burner. I have found that last year’s graduates interact with it still potentially they now see the benefit of the information when working in the area. I believe that it will take a couple of years to integrate it fully into the culture of the educational experience. Students are avid social media users but this shift in emphasis takes time but it is entirely appropriate toward their professional development alongside academic support.
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