Niamh McCrea

Niamh McCrea


"I draw broadly on a constructivist teaching philosophy. Accordingly, I endeavour to provide students with the opportunity to construct knowledge and meaning, both individually and with their peers, and to subject this knowledge to critical analysis."

Teaching interests


I teach across undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, primarily in the area of professional education in youth work, social care, community development and early years education. The unifying focus of much of my teaching is equality studies.

Describe your teaching philosophy


I draw broadly on a constructivist teaching philosophy. Accordingly, I endeavour to provide students with the opportunity to construct knowledge and meaning, both individually and with their peers, and to subject this knowledge to critical analysis. I seek to build on students’ existing knowledge, contextualising new material to previous experiences, and I rely as much as possible on active learning. My use of digital technology is therefore oriented towards better achieving these aims, as evidenced in the attempt to use online quizzes as a means of ‘flipped learning’ to introduce students to material which applied the concepts discussed in class in an accessible way and to foster better discussion and theoretical engagement in class.

What technology do you use?


I have used Blackboard, Turnitin, email, discussion boards, YouTube and PowerPoint. I have used mobile phones in class but only to encourage students to read material online or on Blackboard as an alternative to printing multiple hardcopies. During the academic year 2017-2018, I piloted the use of online quizzes as a means of managing and assessing students’ engagement with set readings in a module called ‘Ethics, Social Justice and Human Rights’, which I discuss more in questions 6 and 7 below.

How do you use this technology?


Until recently, the primary digital tools that I used with students were Blackboard, Turnitin, email, discussion boards, YouTube and PowerPoint. I use Blackboard as a means of communicating with students and as a platform for making available a diverse range of resources including lecture notes, readings, audio-visual material and non-academic readings from the media and so forth which speak to particular themes discussed in class. I have also used Blackboard to divide students into groups for group work. Turnitin is used for the submission and grading of assignments and for providing feedback on draft research proposals and chapters. I was part of a team which piloted using discussion boards as a way of assessing student progress on practice placement. YouTube content and films are used to foster discussion and critical analysis of module themes, for example, racism. module themes, for example, racism. Online quizzes: During the academic year 2017-2018, I piloted the use of online quizzes on Blackboard as a means of managing and assessing students’ engagement with set readings in a 4th year module called ‘Ethics, Social Justice and Human Rights’. Over the course of the module, I set a number of readings for students to read at home in advance of class to help them to engage with core concepts addressed in the ‘lecture’. In essence, I was attempting to follow a model of ‘flipped learning’. The readings were from a range of sources (both academic and non-academic) and were selected because they discussed some of the abstract concepts discussed on the module in a concrete and applied way. I was also trying to foster active learning and discussion in the class. Because it was a large class group (80 students approx.), and because I wished to have evidence that the students had actually read the texts, I set a number of open-ended and closed questions on each reading and administered these via online quizzes on Blackboard. Students were also invited to ask any further questions that they had on the reading in the space provided on the quiz.

What are the advantages to using this technology?


Online quizzes have many advantages for teaching and learning; in particular they can support students to engage with and make sense of basic content (and enable the lecturer to monitor their progress in this regard) and provide a basis for more in-depth engagement and discussion. They can also reduce workload if they involve auto-grading. In my case, they enabled me to quickly see who had completed the questions and who had not, simply by viewing the icon beside each student’s name. However, there are caveats to this last point which I detail below.

What are the disadvantages to using this technology?


On balance, my use of online quizzes did not enable me to achieve my teaching and learning objectives. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, I did not know in advance how many readings I was going to set over the academic year and so I didn’t set up an auto-marking mechanism. Also I’m not sure that auto-marking would have worked in this case as there were not necessarily straightforward ‘right’ answers to the open-ended questions. The idea was that students would get the full 5% allocated to this element of assessment if they showed evidence of having engaged with the readings by answering the questions (even if they got the answer ‘wrong’ or misunderstood the text – this could be picked up on in class). Secondly, many of the students answered or half-answered one question but not the others. These students were marked in blue on Blackboard. If it were a straightforward quantitative text, I could have just taken these as a non- or incomplete submission. However, some of the students showed up in blue if they had technical difficulties in submitting or if they had answered most questions but got stuck on one of them. As there was no way of distinguishing between all these, I had to check each student marked in blue in order to ensure that those who had answered questions did not lose marks. This was enormously time-consuming, particularly with a large class group. Finally, a lot of students had difficulty accessing the link, particularly on home computers or devices, and I did not have time to sort out all the individual cases (which required me to liaise with technical support personnel) so I had to keep a separate list of all those students who just emailed me their answers. This was also time consuming as I had to check that all these students were awarded the mark to which they were entitled. Mid-way through the year, I reverted to Turnitin and just asked students to upload their answers in a Word document. If I were to do this again, I would explore mixing online quizzes with closed questions which better lend themselves to auto-grading with open-ended questions submitted via a different mechanism. Another possible alternative to the approach adopted would be to start the class with a Socrative, Kahoot or other classroom response system quiz in response to the assigned readIng, which students could answer on their phones. This could be an effective way of prompting discussion.

Which training resources helped you in this work?


I attended group information sessions facilitated by IT Carlow’s Teaching and Learning Centre and have also worked closely on a one-to-one basis with a learning technologist who provided individually tailored training and support on specific digital technologies in response to particular teaching or assessment needs. In addition, I attended a SPEEDS digital symposium in UCC in 2017 at which I attended training sessions on the use of Padlet and other technologies.

Funded by


Speeds HEA
Speeds HEA
Speeds HEA