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Seminar on Digital Collaboration and Teaching and Learning

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Hibernia College hosted an online seminar as part of the National Forum’s 2021-2022 National Seminar Series. The seminar — Using a Digital Collaboration Platform to Enhance Social Teaching and Learning Practices — took place on Wednesday, 9 February from 10-11:30 AM on Zoom.

Presenters from the School of Education (SOE) and Digital Learning Department (DLD) offered a range of perspectives on how the new Hibernia College Cohort app is being used across the College to enhance collaborative practices, its initial impact and future possibilities for online collaboration.

Cohort Platform for Collaboration

Francis McKeagney, Head of Digital Learning, opened the seminar with an overview of the Cohort platform —the first of its kind in an Irish higher education institution. The Cohort platform includes iOS and Android apps for phone and iPad and web apps for Windows and macOS.

Cohort supports the message to students: ‘Collaborate with your fellow students in shared workspaces for learning and research on all your devices wherever you are.’ It was introduced to students in April 2021 and has been in use for 10 months. More than 200 groups have been created since the launch and there have been high usage rates among students and staff.

Supporting the Student Experience

Elva Casey Active Programme Lead of the PME in Primary programme, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic opened up new opportunities, and in fact spurred the development of new ways to engage with students, adjunct faculty and school placement tutors. Regular interactions over Zoom, based on assessment and mentoring, provided opportunities to get to know students as holistic learners. These engagements challenged the traditional view of the student teacher.

As a blended learning college, digital technologies are key to offering Hibernia College students support and ways to engage. Elva emphasised that the Cohort app has fostered a community of practice that starts at Hibernia College and grows with students throughout their teaching careers.

Dr Barry O’Leary, Lecturer in Education on the PME in Primary programme, highlighted the Cohort app as a purposeful space and place for the student community, especially in the absence of a physical campus. The app has become meaningful because of student interactions within the app. As an accessible site of social interaction, students are benefitting individually and collectively from social learning.

Megan Griffiths, Student Representative for the PME Post-Primary Spring 2021 Cohort, shared her direct experience with the Cohort app and represented the opinions of her peers. The students particularly appreciated the more focused, professional and private nature of the Cohort app as compared with other communication apps. Her cohort has created groups to promote idea development and online group discussion.

Engagement with the Cohort App

Fiona McArdle, Lecturer in Education on the PME in Primary programme, works primarily in school placement. Fiona detailed the experience of school placement tutors (SPTs) with the Cohort app. SPTs assess students who complete a total of 24 weeks of school placement throughout the programme. They primarily found the Cohort app to be a useful means of communication with the College, evidenced by the high engagement with the app, but noted a need to establish best practices. As a newly introduced technology, this is to be expected. To address these concerns, SOE and DLD are providing guidelines for engagement and offering drop-in webinars for SPTs to learn how to manage the app and learn about its features.

The seminar was concluded by Dr Jean Henefer, Lecturer in Education in Research. Dr Henefer shared findings from an ongoing study on the use of the Cohort app among students and teaching faculty. Thus far, 294 students from four cohorts and 50 teaching faculty members are participating in the mixed methods research involving surveys and focus group interviews. To date, the majority of faculty have not yet received training in the use of the Cohort app but welcome this in the future. A main conclusion is that the Cohort app is working well for most students and the majority have had positive experiences.

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