Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere

‘Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere’ is a summer course over five days at National College of Ireland in association with Mercy College New York between the 26th – 30th  June 2017 . As the title suggests, the goal is to interrogate essential ideas that underpin our understanding and practice of what it means to teach and learn in the world of today. You can get further details at www.eqfee.org The programme is designed for qualified and aspiring learning professionals in areas such as early childhood education, schools, further education, college, university and adult learning settings. Through debate, discussion and critical dialogue, participants will explore issues such as the nature of learning, the purpose of schooling, the goals of lifelong learning, the qualities of teaching, and the relationship between democracy and education. These questions are relevant for teachers everywhere – regardless of country or context – all the more so for the changing times we live in. The history and evolution of Irish education, including the influence and involvement of religious institutions will also be explored. Participants will be encouraged to ask questions, compare systems and discuss alternatives throughout. As teachers everywhere, we have much in common and it is natural Read More …

We Need New Stories in Education

The Seven Basic Plots is an interesting book by Christopher Booker, the main argument is clear from the title; we have a limited number of story lines and regardless of context or medium, we like the familiar, predictable and comforting. Fairytale, folklore, epic novels and modern film scripts all use variations of basic narrative structures; resilience in the face of onslaught, heroic journeys, monsters and dragons and of course, the struggles of good and evil. The argument is not unique, many thinkers have pointed to a form of collective intellectual comfort blanket. We welcome stories that reinforce pre-existing assumptions and avoid those that challenge our biased views and require re-jigging our model of the world. The ‘basic plots’ phenomenon is much in evidence when we talk about education. Whether it is media reporting, policy discourse or public commentary, we return time and again to the familiar blandness of the comfort blanket. I’m tired of hearing about the epic journey of the Leaving Certificate, I’m done with the struggles of the science and engineering to attract and charm the young people of today, I no longer need the wisdom of employers, I’m fed up with tales of cash strapped colleges, disgruntled Read More …

Comments on the ‘Action Plan for Education 2016 -2019’

The Government’s new Action Plan for Education is a very welcome document that contains clear aspirations and detailed actions to be achieved over time. The overall vision is that we (Ireland) become the best education and training system in Europe. This is excellent news and like many others who work in education, I think it is a highly commendable goal; it is realistic and achievable and the Action Plan is an important statement of intent. In that spirit I would like to make some suggestions and identify areas of improvement. This is not to overlook all of the good stuff and positive actions contained therein. Rather, it is to contribute to our thinking so we can achieve the goals to their fullest extent. In the preamble to the document the plan sets out what it means to be the ‘best in Europe’, it means: “Harnessing Education to break down barriers for groups at risk of exclusion; delivering a learning experience to highest international standards; equipping learners of all ages and capacities to participate and succeed in a changing world; and allowing Ireland to be a leader across a broad range of fields, scientific, cultural, enterprise and public service.” (Page 1) Read More …

Ready to Learn – Taking the First Step

‘Oh I was just wondering have you got a moment, I just want to ask you about something‘ she had arrived at NCI reception and they suggested I might meet with her. ‘No problem at all‘ I assured her while thinking how much I had to do that afternoon. Five minutes later she sat in my office. She was very nervous and I thought I noticed a slight trembling in her voice. Her name was Susan. ‘It’s like this‘ she said ‘I was thinking of doing a course here but I am not sure if I’d be able for it‘. She went on to tell me her story. She left school at sixteen without a Leaving Cert. She worked in the retail sector for the last twenty five years and now she is a manager. She is married with three kids and two of them are in college. She reads a lot and is well liked by her colleagues. Generally, she’s happy. But there’s always been a niggle. An unease and sense of being often left out, ignored and taken-for-granted. ‘Sure what would Susan know‘ she once overheard a younger colleague remark. Susan explained that she has been thinking about Read More …

Getting to Grips with Academic Writing

Yikes ! I can’t write this assignment! Some students find it difficult to get to grips with academic writing tasks. Whereas they often understand key concepts associated with an assignment or task they find it very difficult to express these in writing. The problem can lead to stress and frustration on all sides as written assessments may not be seen as a fair measure of student learning outcomes. Of course every person is unique and it is not always easy to provide good advice for all situations; that said, I have noticed similarities in the challenges students face and so I hope the advice I provide below can be of help. Technical versus Mindset There are two types of barriers to writing ability. The first is ‘technical’, by this I mean literally the skills of grammar, vocabulary and composition – the kind of stuff you should learn in school. For a various reasons, students often miss out on these skills and need to work on their basic literacy and writing technique. Thankfully, this is not a common problem in higher education but it is important to be mindful that people can get very far in the system by avoiding situations Read More …

New Learning and Education Degrees at National College of Ireland

I am delighted to introduce two new degree programmes at NCI the BA (Honours) in Early Childhood Education and the BA (Honours) in Adult and Workforce Education.  These are new awards developed by our team to address the growing interest in education at all stages of life and in all contexts. An important idea underpinning our approach to learning is that education is not confined to school. We learn so much in early childhood that stays with us throughout life and likewise when our school years are over we continue to learn as we progress through our career and meet the challenges of our lifespan. It is natural to learn. This seems like an obvious statement but it is so simple we often overlook its importance. We are ‘natural born learners’ and more than any other living organism we are destined to learn all the way through life. Early Childhood Educators are now rightfully regarded as professional practitioners who require advanced qualifications and specialist knowledge and skills. The sector is now the subject of important legislative and policy developments. It is a wonderful area to work in and requires committed educators trained to the highest level. Adult and Workforce Educators Read More …

Skills of Teaching

When it comes to teaching we often make the simple mistake of reducing all that matters into one specific skill. For example, if someone is very good at explaining things we might say they were a good teacher. Likewise, empathy for students is often regarded as an essential quality for teachers. I like to talk in terms of ‘skills for teaching’. In the approach two points are emphasised  – firstly, teaching is multifaceted and involves clusters of abilities rather than one single isolated skill and secondly, when I say skills of teaching I do not put ‘the’ in front, in other words, I mean to say “here are some skills of teaching and there are likely many more”. However, the framework provided below is derived from a series of workshops developed by my colleague Dr Arlene Egan and I. We have used this framework to support improvement in college teachers and in our Post-Graduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching at NCI. We we have devised an activity for each of the skills involved. For example, we use an activity called ‘high five’ to support development of presentation skills. student-teachers are expected to make a presentation to their peers on a Read More …

Questions and Inquiry

I have a recent publication in E-Learning and Digital Media and the following post is a shorter version of some of the ideas I discuss in this paper on Questions, Curiosity and Inquiry. Questions are the root of inquiry; they initiate, sustain and invigorate all aspects of deep learning. Questions direct investigation, drive creativity, stimulate discussion and are the bedrock of reflection. In order to understand inquiry we need to deal with questions. I begin by attempting to clarify potential misconceptions of what exactly questions are. I argue for precision in language and I encourage a fuller conception of questions as situations and processes rather than simple sentences. I also discuss curiosity and elaborate on Dewey’s conception of curiosity as a natural resource for use in the training of thought. These ideas on the nature of questions and curiosity help to frame our understanding of the Inquiry Cycle as a model of learning. They can also act as a bridge, closing the gap between theory and practice, contributing insights on the integration of technology in teaching and learning and suggesting new areas of application and research on learning and inquiry. Questions as Situations Questions and questioning are familiar processes ubiquitous Read More …

The Cycle of Life

Next Friday 28th of March I will take part in the Galway Cycle. This involves a cycle from Maynooth to Galway in one day. This will be by far and a way the longest and most challenging cycle I have done. I have trained and prepared well but admit to being nervous and apprehensive. I am in my mid-fifties and not blessed with an athletic physique. The journey is about 180 kilometers and I will need to keep up with the 25kph pace. The Maynooth Galway Cycle has been running for many years and each year thousands of Euro is raised for a designated charity. This year’s charity is the Prader-Willie Syndrome Association Ireland. This is a well deserved cause and you have only to watch the associated video to appreciate how much they need support. I am collecting so please give a little whatever you can to  http://www.idonate.ie/leosgalwaycycle My affair with the bicycle has spanned the cycle of my life. One of my early memories is accompanying my father on the crossbar of his bike as we cycled to the Garda station to collect another bike.  My bike! It was a find he handed in more than a year Read More …

Learning, Participation and After Virtue

What makes a good person? This is an old and important question.  Philosophers and theologians through the years have sought an answer including Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Kierkegaard, Newman, Nietzsche and others. Alasdair MacIntyre provides a useful analysis of the history of thinking on this question and the current state of moral philosophy in his books After Virtue (1984) and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988). MacIntyre argues that a full understanding of moral philosophy today is constrained by failure to appreciate historical context. He proposes a disquieting scenario to illustrate what he deems the state of affairs today. Imagine, he suggests, through some terrible catastrophe all the scientists in the world were wiped out and with them the thinking and practice they engaged in. Some time later, when people seek to revive science they would only be partly successful; they would have to rely on clues from remnants of documentation, pieces of laboratory apparatus and a scattering of folk ideas. The practice of science would be gone. Although MacIntyre uses this vista to illustrate how, he believes, we have lost the way (and means) of moral philosophy, he is also making a point about ‘practice’. Human activities directed and sustained toward Read More …