Dublin City University (DCU) is offering teachers and lecturers a free online course to help them make the most of technology to continue teaching their own students through the Covid-19 school and college shutdown.
The three week programme, being hosted by DCU, in partnership with the global online education platform, FutureLearn, starts on Monday. It will repeat every three weeks.
One of the most remarkable features of the initiative is the speed with which it came into being - devised only this week in a rapid response to the needs of educators, in Ireland and around the world.
The course is open to teachers, lecturers and trainers, not only in Ireland, but around the world, and, since its launch on Wednesday, about 3,000 educators from more than 125 countries - including 150 from Ireland - have signed up.
In Ireland, the coronavirus crisis has disrupted the education of more than one million primary, post-primary, further and higher education students in Ireland and it is estimated that, globally, more than 850 million children and young people – roughly half of the world’s student population – are out of school or college.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has raised the prospect of the nationwide closure of schools and colleges, continuing for months, and teachers have been asked to maintain continuity of education.
The Department of Education’s Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), school book publishers and others are making online resources available but, even in communities where internet connectivity is not an obstacle to digital teaching and learning, that only goes part of the way to filling the gap left by school closures.
The sudden switch to online tuition, and from a distance, presents challenges, even for practitioners who are well used to using technology in the classroom.
And there are many teachers who lack the skills to deliver tuition online, or are uncomfortable working with online educational platforms and resources when they are not in the same room as their pupils.
The “How To Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students” programme was specially designed for those who have to rapidly move from face-to-face to online teaching in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The focus of the course is not subject content but practical steps towards, and advice around, online teaching and supporting students, with participants encouraged to reflect on their work, adapt their approaches, and share their experiences.
It all started last Monday when DCU’s National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) hosted a webinar for European educators, in partnership with the European Distance Teaching University Association, as a contribution to the current debate about challenges and opportunities for online education arising from the current crisis.
DCU already has a strategic partnership with FutureLearn, which offers online short courses as well as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to millions of subscribers worldwide.
After Monday’s webinar, NIDL Director Professor Mark Brown said FutureLearn approached DCU, there was a meeting on Tuesday and the course was launched on Wednesday.
Professor Brown, who has contributed content to the course and will be a course mentor, said “the requirement to act quickly was very much paramount.”
He said because of the exceptional circumstances, the course was not intended to be heavily theoretical. “There is some theory behind it, but we want to create a really powerful education community. As we have seen, the power comes from the community.”
He recalled that DCU hosted a world conference on online learning in November, where FutureLearn was the major sponsor, and “when we had discussions with 800 delegates from 80 countries, we would never have been able to predict that, three months later, online was being mainstreamed, and not only mainstream, but global.”
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