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 Response to Higher Education Authority Consultation Document
National Academy for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
                                Athlone Institute of Technology

                                       Denise Mac Giollari
                                       Luke Fannon
                                       Nuala Harding
                                       Dr Joseph Ryan
Introduction ............................................................................................................................................ 2
Learning and Teaching Unit initiatives in AIT.......................................................................................... 3
Response to questions posed in consultation document ....................................................................... 5
Appendix 1 .............................................................................................................................................. 8
   Selection of key activities by the AIT Learning and Teaching Unit to date: ........................................ 8
   Effective strategies used by the AIT Learning and Teaching Unit to encourage participation:.......... 9

The HEA National Academy Consultation document is warmly welcomed by Athlone Institute of
Technology and we are pleased to take the opportunity to respond to the call for consultation in this
important matter. The initiative to establish a National Academy is considered to be timely and
appropriate for Higher Education in Ireland in the 21st century. It is also consistent with the
concerted support for advances in pedagogy over recent years,

However it is our considered opinion that careful consideration must be given to the following:

         the funding model applied: this should not take precedence over the support of Learning
          and Teaching at a local level by the HEA as was implemented in the universities in 20041. AIT
          has established a very successful Learning and Teaching Unit. It has embedded this;
          however sustainability post SIF is a challenge.
         establishing credible governance procedures that will be fully representative will need
          careful planning. AIT supports the submission of the IOTI in this regard.
         ensuring that successful projects such as the Learning Innovation Network (LIN) and the
          Educational Developers in Ireland Network (EDIN) maintain their existing individual identity
          as they have played a seminal role in HE and have attracted the support and engagement of
          specific groups in the HE sector in Ireland and internationally.
         ensuring that the National Academy is independent of any one institution, there is at least
          the danger of the perception that is could be another version of NAIRTL which, although
          successful, did not represent the totality of ithe HE landscape sector evenly. The NA offers
          opportunity to give expression to the very equity that is at rhe heart oof the NFQ.
         lessons need to be learned from similar approaches in other countries for example the
          Australian Teaching Council 2 which was abolished earlier this year with a significant deficit
          and the Higher Education Academy in UK which has not had the impact intended but has
          been extremely costly. However the Staff and Educational Developers Association (SEDA) in
          the UK is seen by many as the shaper of thought and initiator of action in staff and
          educational development, not only in the UK but in the international domain also.3 This
          model should be considered as part of deliberations regarding the setting up of a National
         recognizing the significant impact that funding awards can have when administered at local
          level to support small scale action research projects and to promote scholarship of teaching
          and collaborative endeavor. The success of the NDLR local innovation projects in this
          institute and others provides evidence of this.
         there is an existing rich network of experts in Irish HE who have successfully collaborated on
          many different projects such as ILTA, NDLR, LIN and EDIN who in turn could make a
          significant contribution to the proposed National Academy.

 National Academy Consultation document October 2011

Learning and Teaching Unit initiatives
in AIT
AIT’s current strategic plan acknowledges that learning, teaching, and assessment are core functions
of the institute and the cornerstone on which research excellence is built.4 It also acknowledges the
significant step the institute has taken in establishing the Learning and Teaching Unit in 2006 and
commits to developing it further. The Learning and Teaching Unit has set out an ambitious plan from
2011-2014, developed in response to the recommendations made by programmatic review and
institute review panels. It is informed by the National Strategy in Higher Education to 2030,5 in
addition to the comprehensive programme of work carried out by the unit within the institute and
through the significant contribution it has made to national research projects. Quality of and
engagement in, the formal and informal offerings of the L&T Unit will have accrued match funding
for the institute from SIF projects of in excess of €1,000,000 at close of academic year 2011-2012.
The plan seeks to build on the success of the L&T Unit and in particular the recognition which it has
afforded to AIT in establishing itself as a centre of excellence in the area of educational
development. The plan sets out six key objectives.

Key Objectives 2011-2014

       Objective 1 To offer opportunities for Academic Professional Development
       Objective 2 To promote and develop Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)
       Objective 3 To enhance the First Year Experience (FYE)
       Objective 4 To assist in and inform Curriculum Design and Redesign
       Objective 5 To support and advance the Scholarship of Teaching
       Objective 6 To support and encourage External Collaboration - national and international

The development of the plan has been informed by the comprehensive plan of work carried out by
the L&T Unit since 2006 (appendix 1). This work was carried out with limited resources however the
impact of the unit was considered very favourably by programmatic review panels in 2010 and the
institutional review panel in 2011. Reports highlighted the key role which the unit has played in
bringing about significant change in learning and teaching. Recommendations were made to
strengthen the L&T Unit further in recognition of the key role the unit plays in supporting the quality
assurance of the institute. 6

  AIT Strategic Plan 2009-2013 page 30
  Department of Education and Skills. (2010) National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 Report of the
Strategy Group Summary. Dublin: Department for Education and Skills. Available online at
  Appendix 1 Key initiatives of L&T Unit

The AIT L&T Unit has made a significant contribution to national research projects funded by the
Higher Education Authority. The HEA cites the Learning Innovation Network (LIN)7 as one of the most
successful inter-institutional collaborative projects conducted in SIF. This project has led initially to
the validation of the Certificate in Learning and Teaching (Level 9 Special Purpose Award) and
culminating with the validation in AIT of the LIN Postgraduate Diploma in Learning, Teaching and
Assessment in 2011. The collaborative curriculum design process for this flexible academic
professional development pathway has been well documented.8 AIT currently offers three APD
modules to staff and external participants and plans to make further modules available ideally
through the online classroom. In addition AIT is supporting other institutes with the implementation
of modules. The sense of shared mission and partnership between providers has been key to the
success of this initiative.

AIT is lead institute for the Educational Developers in Ireland Network.9 EDIN has recently made a
successful bid to NAIRTL in the 2011 grants initiative.

Engagement with the National Digital Learning Repository has enabled the development of a
community of practice in the institute which focuses on the use of learning technologies and has
encouraged research informed practice, with members of staff engaging in local and national
innovation projects which in turn have led to the presentation of research papers nationally and

The unit has also been responsible for the Student Led Learning project which has seen the
development of a first year Peer Assisted Student Support (PASS) scheme in AIT, including the
validation and implementation of a leadership module which allows PASS leaders gain academic
credit for this vital voluntary contribution. The scheme is currently available on sixteen first year
programmes with all schools represented. The scheme is currently available to 518 first year
students in the institute. This project also led to further collaborations with GMIT, NUIG, IT Sligo, and

From inception the L&T Unit has taken an evidence-based approach which has included collecting
and analysing data through a variety of approaches such as the:

        LIN sectoral survey 2008
        AIT academic survey 2009/2010
        Student Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Survey 2009 and 2011
        Staff VLE Survey 2009
        Level 9 module participant evaluations
        External examiner reports 2010 and 2011

Dissemination of findings will continue to occur within the institute and through appropriate
conferences and publications. In addition there is a commitment to benchmarking the L&T Unit
activities with comparator HE providers.

  HEA National Academy Consultation document Oct 2011, page 3
  Fitzpatrick, N. and Harvey, J. (Eds) (2011) Designing together: effective strategies for creating a collaborative
curriculum to support academic professional development. Dublin: Dublin Institute of Technology,
Dublin. Available online at
  HEA National Academy Consultation document Oct 2011, appendix 1

Consideration has been given to the diverse student profile which the institute attracts and how the
L&T Unit can play a pivotal role in enhancing the quality of the learning experience and support staff
in the ever changing environment in higher education, particularly in the IoT sector. The Learning
and Teaching Unit aims to continue to provide formal and informal training for staff and assistance
with programme design and redesign, in addition to supporting the flexible delivery of programmes.

The resourcing requirement identified in the plan is also lean and fit for purpose in keeping with the
proposed national academy; it is based on the successful NUIG CELT model and that operating in the
LTTC in DIT. It includes allowing staff who have developed expertise in areas such as instructional
design, assessment, learning and teaching and technology enhanced learning to work with the unit
for a portion of their time. The team is cross disciplinary allowing them to focus on signature
pedagogies and also stimulate debate and discourse between disciplines. It is a model which could
be replicated in other IoTs to support the implementation of the LIN AIT Postgraduate Diploma
flexible pathway and support other initiatives including peer assisted learning. In AIT the resourcing
requested will also allow the L&T team to respond to school specific initiatives and requests. The
L&T Unit team is committed to supporting institute working groups and committees related to
learning, teaching and assessment.

However the L&T Unit team will require a high quality skills set and will be expected to engage in
professional learning opportunities and role model a scholarly approach to learning and teaching.
There will be a requirement to engage in explicit goal setting with specific performance indicators
outlined and reviewed.

The success of this plan is contingent on the provision of resources to support the L&T Unit.
Resourcing is based on the provision of a lean and efficient L&T Unit which can address the needs of
the institute and enhance student learning assist in the implementation of recommendations in the
National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 (DES, 2011).

Response to questions posed in
consultation document
1.       Do you agree that the time is opportune for the creation of a National Academy for the
Enhancement of Teaching and Learning?
AIT believes that the creation of a National Academy for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
is timely and appropriate for higher education. It should ensure the opportunity continue successful
projects identified in the Gordon Davies review in 2010. However, clarification is required about
structures, governance and funding and prioritising themes in order to ensure it is effective.

Priority should be given to reviewing current resourcing of learning and teaching centres/units
particularly in the IoT’s to ensure parity in approach with universities and devise a mechanism for
providing a sustainable funding model at a local level. This in turn could have a rapid and significant
impact in the achievement of many objectives outlined in the National Strategy for Higher

2.       How can the National Academy best complement each institution’s own work to enhance
the quality of teaching and learning?
The national academy can engage in a number of activities to complement, not replace, activity at
institutional level:
      Provide a forum for sharing knowledge, best practice and promoting the scholarship of
      Provide a mechanism for shifting the emphasis placed on research and innovation to include
         research informed teaching and giving it parity of esteem
      Work on a national level to disseminate best practice and innovative developments
      Encourage institutes to run events and training programmes that are open to staff from all
      Be a centralised source of information for institutes on all learning and teaching matters

3.    How can the National Academy support the continuing professional development of
academics in Irish higher education?
    As indicated previously priority should be given to reviewing current resourcing of learning
      and teaching centres/units particularly in the IoT’s to ensure parity in approach with
      universities and devise a mechanism for providing a sustainable funding model at a local
      level. This in turn could have a rapid and significant impact in the achievement of many
      objectives outlined in the National Strategy/Hunt report.
    Develop a professional standards framework for teaching in higher education and roll it out
      to the academic community appropriately – SEDA model. However this needs to be linked
      clearly to progression and advancement. With staff who are engaging in innovative and
      effective approaches in learning, teaching and assessment being recognised for this.
    Compliment this with an appropriate continued discipline specific professional development.
    Provide details of national learning and teaching experts and their areas of expertise.

4.     How can the National Academy assist in closing the loop between the identification of
good practice and the mainstreaming of this practice across the broader academic community?
    Targeted support for senior and middle management.
    The themes for seminars and workshops need to be strategically in line with themes which
       are prioritised.
    Link attendance at academic professional development events – seminars, workshops to
       formal programmes as with the LIN APD model to ensure reflection and application to
       practice where appropriate.

5.      How can the National Academy further the existing linkages and partnerships with
international practitioners in this field, and facilitate new partnerships with equivalent entities in
neighbouring and other jurisdictions, to contribute to and benefit from the development of a
“global interdisciplinary perspective on teaching and learning”?
There are a number of activities that the NA can do to further partnerships and linkages:
     Provide a gateway – portal for activities, events, opportunities for collaboration.
     Funding educational research with international partners as an incentive to begin fostering
        new academic partnerships – EDIN grants award 2011 aims to do this with educational
     Invite international academics and experts to run collaborative events, seminars and
        workshops in Ireland – there have been some excellent examples of this using SIF funding in
        AIT in collaboration with EDIN, ILTA, NDLR, NUIG and GMIT and others. Experts such as
        Professor John Biggs and Dr Catherine Tang, Professor Sally Brown, Professor Richard Felder

         and Dr Rebecca Brent, Dr Chris Rust and Professor Ray Land have been involved. These were
         exceptional events in that they involved participants from across the full spectrum of HE
         providers leading to dynamic and informed debate and deliberation about key themes in
         higher education.
        Showcase Irish achievements in teaching and learning nationally and internationally with a
         focus on how the scholarship of teaching has impacted on enhancing the quality of the
         student experience.

6.      Should the National Academy continue all activities of the existing teaching and learning
networks and projects, funding permitting, or should it review all existing activities and start
afresh following the review?
It appears from the consultation document and the Davies10 review that the HEA have evidence of
what has been successful and should be continued. There were a number of successful projects.
Particularly impressive are those such as LIN and EDIN which operated on very small funding and yet
have made a significant impact by comparison to other projects outlined on page 5 of the document.
Highly successful projects, such as LIN and EDIN, should be continued and become an integral part of
the functions of the academy in order to assist in the implementation of recommendations in the
Hunt report (DES, 2011).

7.       Should the National Academy be a virtual platform with a physical base in an existing HEI,
or does it need a physical presence of its own that is independent of any individual institution?
It is imperative that the national academy is afforded a physical space which is independent of any
individual institution. This is the only way that the organisation will achieve buy in and represent all
institutions in the HE sector including private colleges. A midlands location should be considered
which will allow ease of access from all geographical locations.

Final suggestion
Consider a change in the title to the National Academy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessment in
recognition of the paradigm shift which has occurred in higher education and particularly how we
are now required to design, implement, and evaluate programmes with the key focus on learning
and the learner.

  Davies, G. K. (2010) Report of the SIF Evaluation. Dublin: Higher Education Authority. Available online at

Appendix 1
Selection of key activities by the AIT Learning and Teaching Unit to date:
         Academic Professional Development
              Validation of the AIT Postgraduate Diploma in Learning, Teaching and Assessment
              Successful implementation of postgraduate modules – Learning and Teaching,
                 Technology Enhanced Learning, Assessment and Evaluation.
              Quality of and engagement in training – match funding to SIF projects to exceed
                 €1,000,000 at end of 2011

          Technology Enhanced Learning
            Formal and informal opportunities for staff development
            NDLR funding application granted annually since 2007
            Technology Enhanced Learning – Local and National innovation projects
            Hosting the EdTech 2010 conference

          First Year Experience
            Peer Assisted Student Support including PASS Leadership module
            Learning to Learn Module
            Learning Enhancement Committee; development of access policy; development of
               Learning Enhancement ICT strategy.
            Hosting the 5th Peer Assisted Learning Symposium in 2011

          Curriculum Reform
            Supporting programme design and redesign
            School specific projects e.g. Humanities
            Programmatic review
            Academic Standards and Quality Committee

          External Collaboration – raising the profile of the institute
            Learning Innovation Network – highest ranking in the 2010 HEA commissioned SIF
               review, project continued under the auspices of the IoTI
            GMIT, NUIG – Student Led Learning Project
            Flexible Learning Project
            Educational Developers in Ireland Network (EDIN) – Educational developers support
               teaching and learning in higher education. Members of EDIN work in Irish
               universities, institutes of technology and other higher education institutions.
               AIT Learning and Teaching Coordinator Chairperson 2011-2011
            Successful collaborations with University of Manchester – Peer Assisted Learning
               And University of Aalborg – Problem Based Learning

          Dissemination of Findings
           Papers and workshops presented at conferences:

    Edtech 2009, 2010, 2011; CELT Conference, NUIG, 2009, 2011; NDLR Fest 2010, 2011;
    International Supplemental Instruction Conference, 2010; International First Year Experience
    Conference, 2011.

    Publications: Books/Peer reviewed Journals
    Chapters in Fitzpatrick, N. and Harvey, J. (2010) (Eds) Designing together: effective strategies for
    creating a collaborative curriculum to support academic professional development’ Dublin
    Institute of Technology, Dublin. ISBN 1 900454 41 6

    Cosgrave et al, (2011) Usage and uptake of Virtual Learning Environments and Technology
    Assisted Learning Tools: Findings from a multi-institutional, multi-year, comparative study, The
    All Ireland Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (AISHEJ)

Effective strategies used by the AIT Learning and Teaching Unit to encourage participation:
     The unit established the Technology Enhanced Learning research awards which in turn led to
        the establishment of a community of practice in information technology which is informing
        the deployment of technology across the institute.
     Design and implementation of a range of supports for the use of the virtual learning
        environment – Moodle.
     Deployment of the academic survey at scheduled school/department meetings to allow time
        for considered reflection on learning, teaching and assessment.
     Targeted training in the use of classroom technologies including senior management.
     Integration of elearning on all formal programmes.
     Provision of various fora to encourage opportunities for informed dialogue and critical
        reflection on key aspects relating learning teaching and assessment and quality
        enhancement of programmes.
     Providing opportunities for cross school and cross institute engagement in relation to
        learning teaching and assessment and the quality of the student learning experience.
     Supporting small scale action research projects focused on implementing changes to
        practice or programme design.
     Themed workshops to support staff in programme design and redesign with an emphasis on
        repositioning assessment to encourage student motivation.
     Promoting the scholarship of teaching (Boyer, 1995) as outlined by Professor John Davies in
        his report commissioned by the HEA entitled ‘Strategic positioning of the Institutes of
        Technology in Ireland in 2008 (p38) and the National Strategy on Higher Education to 2030.
     The introduction of the module management system which will provide an online
        collaborative tool for the design of programmes.
     Providing a flexible pathway to a postgraduate award in learning and teaching.
     Supporting academic and support staff to gain Peer Assisted Student Support supervisory
        training and certification in the University of Manchester, the UK centre of excellence in
        peer assisted learning.
     Successful collaboration externally across the HE sector with such organisations as the
        Educational Developers of Ireland Network, National Digital Learning Repository, All Ireland
        Society for Teachers in Higher Education and the Learning innovation Network.
     Effective use of social media: L&T webpage, email notifications, Eventbrite, Twitter,
        Facebook and Student Texting.


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