Building Digital Teaching and Learning Capabilities in Higher Education in Ireland in Response to a Global Pandemic with

Dr Carina Ginty, Head of Teaching and Learning + Project Lead, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT)

Dr Carina Ginty, Head of Teaching and Learning + Project Lead, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT)

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) includes 5 campuses in the West of Ireland with 7,000+ students including 40 nationalities. At GMIT, we are committed to building digital teaching and learning capabilities. We provide our students with a transformative third level learning experience, empowering our graduates to fully contribute to the social, economic and cultural betterment of society. GMIT is a member of the Connacht-Ulster Alliance (CUA), including Galway-Mayo (GMIT), Sligo (IT Sligo) and Donegal (LYIT), and is transitioning to become a new Technological University (TU) in the West and North-West of Ireland, that will include 21,000 students in 2022.

How did we build digital teaching and learning capabilities in GMIT and the wider CUA?

The GMIT Strategic Plan 2019-2023 outlines thirteen goals that place the student at the centre of everything we do. Digitalisation and the use of technology are key strategic priorities for GMIT. In response to the global pandemic, GMIT and CUA partners invested considerable resources in developing rapid response digital intervention initiatives, to support the learning, teaching and assessment transition, for staff and students. This was made possible due to several initiatives, including the development of the knowledge platform supported by the HEA Innovation fund in Ireland (2019-2022) named the iNOTE project.

GMIT Teaching and Learning Office has led the development of DigitalEd under the iNOTE project. A graphic (see Figure 1) illustrates and summarises the various DigitalEd initiatives that were implemented to support the digital transformation journey to date at GMIT and across CUA sites.

Figure 1: Development Journey 2019-2021

The range of initiatives established since March 2020, that are building digital teaching and learning capabilities in GMIT and across the CUA include:

 the development of the Knowledge Platform (see Figure 2);

 the development of a digital champion academic team representing each department;

 Ask Me Anything (AMA) clinics;

 digital teaching and learning small group workshops;

 a digital education webinar series;

 alternative assessment strategies workshops;

 show and tell insight sessions on digital technologies;

 recruitment of graduate student mentors;

 online PASS student leadership sessions to support the first year experience;

 the digital education development pathway at for academic staff;

 digital professional practice alternatives;

 creation of online teaching and learning guides;

and investment in a remote teaching technology toolkit, for all staff working remotely.

Impact Achieved

The enormity of what was achieved building digital teaching and learning capabilities across the CUA, in a short space of time, was a result of:

 advances in digital education technologies including Microsoft Teams, Moodle and a range of student engagement digital apps;

 staff willingness to engage in digital education learning opportunities;

 a focus on student engagement in the online learning space;

 collaboration with multi-discipline groups and peer learning opportunities across multiple campuses;

 exploration and discovery of new innovative online assessment strategies and how to manage academic integrity in the online learning world.

The scale of what was achieved in GMIT in Galway-Mayo and the wider CUA partner sites in Sligo and Donegal, and its alignment to digital transformation strategic objectives, has the potential for transfer of learnings to other higher education institutes in Ireland and internationally.

From March 2020 up to June 2021, the impact on staff and student engagement and the development of digital capabilities has been wide ranging and includes:

 250+ Ask Me Anything (AMA) Clinics delivered to academic staff covering digital learning and teaching skills.200+ webinars/workshops delivered online on digital teaching and learning development strategies.

 6,500+ staff registrations for online DigitalEd webinars across Galway-Mayo, Sligo and Letterkenny.

 125+ teaching and learning office video demonstration video resources produced and available on a Teaching and Learning (T&L) media channel available through MS Stream.

 45+ Learning, Teaching and Assessment resources/special guides developed.

 80+ staff completed an accredited level 9 postgraduate learning pathway in Technology Enhanced Learning or Digital T&L and 24 graduates became Digital Academic Champions, providing one to one and small group mentoring sessions in their academic departments across 8 campus sites in the CUA.

 6,000+ visits have been recorded to the knowledge platform enabling self-directed learning and a range of digital education resources. The platform was widely promoted on social media during the COVID-19 emergency, and as a result further higher education institutes have accessed the platform for support and guidance.

 10 specialist student remote learning support resources and services have been established to help student’s engagement with online learning.

 A one-stop shop (online portal) was set up for students called the ‘GMIT Student Hub’.

 18 student graduates were recruited in August 2020, to provide online mentoring and support to students from first year to final year, and to create an online sense of belonging to GMIT.

 Top digital T&L topics where academic colleagues sought support and guidance from T&L rapid response clinics and workshops include: Assessment Design and Set-up; Moodle; H5P online course design; MS Lens; Breakout Rooms; MS Stream; OneNote; Learning Design Strategies; Class Management; Structuring and Online Lecture; Creating Video; TEL tools; Moodle Gradebook; online whiteboard; student engagement strategies.

What we learned?

Extraordinary goodwill was demonstrated by everyone involved in teaching, learning and supporting and leading functional areas across the 8 CUA campuses, and much was learned for the future in our digital transformation development journey. A cycle of continuous improvement in digital education is ongoing, through action research studies underway on the initiatives outlined in this article and from reflective evidence generated from a wide range of stakeholders. This is critical to our digital transformation journey, which is current today, but it will also be crucial in the post-COVID-19 context, in which the use of blended and online learning is only expected to increase in GMIT and across the higher education sector globally.

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