Student Story: Stephen Gallagher
Could you tell us about yourself and your organisation?
I’m a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Officer within the City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB). There are 60 Education Training Boards in the country, but the City of Dublin is one of the larger ones, with approximately 20,000 learners throughout all our service spheres. The service spheres include learners in post-primary education, further education, training and prison education. So it includes a large cohort of learners in adult education.
As a TEL Officer, my remit is to support all those service spheres, which include both the educators and the learners. I am responsible for supporting them with embedding digital technologies into their teaching and learning, and improving the quality of learning.
So you work with many different types of learners?
That is correct. We are currently working on consolidating our approach to digital technology implementation so that we have an approach that captures all our learners. We would like our education experiences to be as consistent as possible, and to have a structure around platforms that we use, such as virtual learning environments (VLE).
I’m actually an educator myself, and worked in a classroom for 13 years. I’m still a teacher, but have just transitioned out of the actual classroom teaching. So I practice what I preach by using digital technologies that have a positive effect on the learning. It’s important to ensure that it adds quality to the learning. We then measure the digital technologies as we progress. It has been evolving all the time, particularly in the last few years.
Can you talk about some projects you worked on while transitioning to blended and online learning, and whether there were challenges?
I would say we had a similar experience to many others in the education space. When Covid hit, we went straight online with no prior experience with virtual classrooms. So there was a lot of upskilling, and a lot of discussions around getting the platforms right. In our organisation, we use both Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which meant it lacked uniformity in terms of platforms. So the first initial project was to agree on how we would conduct our classes online and which tools we should be using. One issue was that not all students had credentials for Microsoft Teams; so we had to quickly get them on board.
The first goal was to have as few steps as possible for everyone to get online and engage. After this initial period, the first project was picking tools. It was all hands on deck. But our goal was to really streamline our tools, so that we could provide support. So we decided on the applications; and now we’ve nearly consolidated them down to 20. This enables us to really master those tools and provide high-quality support.
What were some of the drivers to continue developing into digital learning post-pandemic?
I would say that our students are the drivers because they have really embraced this digital learning. Although you will never replicate the experience of the face-to-face classroom, bringing students into the online space and giving them the option to conduct learning on their own time has been well-received. Our students want blended learning and we know we can provide this. We have a great infrastructure in place to enable it. So the next step is to fully utilise all these tools.
What were some of the results you achieved by going online and doing more digital and blended delivery?
We overwhelmingly hear from our students that they enjoy participating in that online space, but not all the time. And we also don’t want to do it all the time. However, if there is a course and module that can be conducted in an online environment, then we should be having that conversation. But our students do like courses on-demand. They like the flexibility to choose when they can participate in a certain course; but they also like coming in for face-to-face further education and training. It’s a very family-oriented delivery, where they come into our classrooms and we’re a little community within each of our centres. That is a big part of what we do. And so online learning is an extra resource and an extra way of doing things.
Would you say that digital learning enhances, rather than replaces the learning experience?
Yes, exactly – it enhances the learning experience. The digital part of it can enhance productivity, and even save time in your class. So it is worth investing your time and learning the tools. As we all know, educators are time poor, so you need to have tools that can save you time.
For example, we have some educators who are very near retirement, who are wanting to learn more about digital tools. They’ve had a career of doing it one way, and they’re embracing new ways because everyone is aware of the technological skills you obtain from digital learning. It’s a skill set that is transferable into your own life and in a day-to-day setting.
How did the Digital Learning Institute support you and your team in that process?
We had initially made the decision to start creating our own online learning content. We were already making videos and had discussed the potential of podcasts. We were also already doing mandatory courses, such as for health and safety, GDPR, cyber security, and such. So since we’re a big organisation, there were loads of conversations going on, and it was about bringing it all together.
We thought our educators were in the best position to create the content, so we got them involved and put out an expression of interest to all our centres that the DLI course was to be offered to anyone interested in the TEL space. We wanted a broad amount of employees in relation to the spheres they work in – including prison education, further education and training education. We ended up with 20 from all different spheres; and the course was hugely beneficial to the individuals, their centres and the entire organisation.
As we were going through the course, we learned an awful lot about what we do well and what we could improve on in the organisation. We have also come together as a collective and now two participants of the course are redesigning a module using the framework that we learned from the course.
A lot of people asked me how I was finding the course and I’ve learned so much. The expectation was that I would know everything already from my role. And I’ve always done a bit of instructional design, but I’m now putting a structure and framework on it. The next step is a collective meeting to decide on our next steps. We plan on using multimedia, videos, infographics, and other types of content that we learned in the course.
Can you share any impacts that the course had on the organisation?
There was a lot of work to the course, and the content was really good. We learned a lot about the process and framework and were able to discuss where we could go from here – especially with our multimedia courses. Every college can now express an interest in doing a blended online course. It’s still in its infancy, but it is the next step on our journey in blended learning. A part of that will potentially incorporate a multimedia module where our students can participate online and in their own time.
For us to do that has to be structured, which I don’t think we could do without the knowledge from the course. We would have had to definitely hire help in order to do this. Whereas now when our directors and our managers ask if can we do this internally, I can say that we just trained 20 people, and maybe there’s someone within that space who could develop this content. For example, we have two people at the moment over the summer working on a six-week module.
So there’s a lot of work and conversations going on. People know about the course itself, or that there are educators within the organisation who have done the course. We have another cohort now coming up, so people are interested. Because when you’re doing a course, it is really worthwhile.
Why did you choose Digital Learning Institute?
A recommendation was the reason we chose Digital Learning Institute. It was a simple decision, really – you can’t beat word of mouth. We then saw that the Digital Learning Institute is accredited and had a conversation to learn more. So it was pretty straightforward for us, but it was the recommendation that we really valued.
Can you describe the experience of learning with DLI and what areas you and your team received the most value?
For me personally, I enjoyed the virtual classrooms, the podcasts and the video modules. I liked the social side of it, and that we got to meet once a month to have our online conversation. It was good just to talk about what was going on and ask questions in those breakout rooms. In relation to the course itself, I enjoyed the practical way of navigation, and doing the course in my own time. But it was challenging to get through at all. You had to engage and couldn’t really passively go through videos of the content.
There was a lot of content in each of the 10 modules. I’d say the ones I really got a lot out of were the multimedia e-learning and the virtual classroom design modules. Those modules, the podcasts, and the infographics all helped me better know what we should be doing within the organisation. We would never have known the framework around that.
In the way we’re navigating the online space now, blended delivery is becoming a part of what we do. So having expertise and a knowledge base of digital design and the principles are important for an organisation like ours. We don’t currently have anyone in the organisation who would be considered an instructional designer, but now some are on that journey.
Since you’re an educator, would you say it would be a nice transition for educators who are interested in technology and enhanced learning?
Absolutely. In relation to tools, I’ve used many of these tools before. So it’s great that the tools are actually used in the industry as well. For example, we use Canva and Adobe Creative Cloud. These tools might have been used in isolation by a teacher, but they can be used outside the classroom as well. I would have the skills to work in industry, for example. So the idea is that there are options for people to transition into a digital learning career because this area of online learning is only going to expand.
Would you recommend that others invest in their learning and take the next step with the Digital Learning Institute?
Absolutely. We have a ‘CDETB Technology Week’, which is basically our consolidation of applications that we use. We support around 20 to 30 applications and wanted our participants to be able to use some of the platforms and tools that we use. I mentioned Adobe Creative Cloud, Canva, Nearpod, Anchor for podcasts, and Moodle as our LMS. Whatever tool we mentioned, DLI tried to incorporate it into the learning, which was really important for us. It was an advantage that DLI did that for us. So it’s important to consolidate and know what you want out of the course.