One of the topics we looked at recently was the role of flexible learning and technology-enhanced learning (TEL) in Irish higher education. The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education is an organisation that produces reports and policy documents on the state of technology and teaching practice in Irish higher institutions.
The National Forum has provided funding for projects under the 2015 Building Digital Capacity fund. One of these projects is Take 1 Step, which runs in collaboration with the University of Limerick, Mary Immaculate College, and Limerick Institute of Technology (otherwise known as the Shannon Consortium partners).
One of the outcomes of this initiative is a roadshow, which arrives at the University of Limerick tomorrow. This roadshow will provide a series of workshops to help students and anybody working in the university to become more confident with using digital tools. It sounds very useful, but as a distance student, I will be unable to attend.
Another initiative funded by the National Forum is the Transformation Through Collaboration project. University College Cork is the project leader, which makes it a bit closer to home for me.
One of the aims of this project is to promote Digital Champions in each of the collaborating higher education institutes. These staff members are then tasked with promoting digital skills within their respective departments and disciplines. Next week during Digital Week, the champions will have the opportunity to showcase their own projects.
All of these initiatives are undoubtedly well intentioned and necessary. However, there are a huge number of obstacles to the adoption of technology-enhanced learning, one of the biggest of which is the lack of time for academics to receive training and to adopt this approach.
Most academics that I have known are under huge pressure to conduct research, with the old cliché ‘publish or perish’ constantly hanging over them. Which means unfortunately, that teaching is not actually a priority for many people. They simply do not have the time to put in to this work, even if it means reaping huge benefits after a year or two.
In addition, with a growing trend towards hourly pay and casual or one-year contracts within higher education institutes, is it really fair to ask these instructors to put so much time and effort into new technology when they cannot be guaranteed a secure job at the end of it?
If universities and institutes of technology are truly serious about adopting technology-enhanced learning, then it will require a huge investment of time, resources, and support on their part. However, with 90% of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) voting for strike action over the underfunding crises in third level institutions, this sadly seems unlikely at the moment.