Chalk Talk: News and views in education

Test-tube trials: scientist Conor Courtney shows Taoiseach Enda Kenny a DNA extraction experiment at the Science Gallery in Trinity College, Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Test-tube trials: scientist Conor Courtney shows Taoiseach Enda Kenny a DNA extraction experiment at the Science Gallery in Trinity College, Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire


Should we go online to learn?

Poor teaching and what can be done about underperformance, figured on the airwaves last week on RTÉ’s “Today with Sean O’Rourke”. Then at last Thursday’s launch of TCD’s Science Gallery programme for 2014, which has an inventive and quirky line-up, Taoiseach Enda Kenny referred to the quality of teaching and talked about the “problem with teaching” and “relative competency”, and said it was “not easy to get the best out of a class”. He lauded the Alison initiative of free online project maths grinds, as a help in understanding its concepts.

Whether that could be seen as endorsing reliance on grinds is unclear. The Alison grinds follow the Wise award for educational innovation presented to Mike Feerick of Alison, the Irish educational company with an international reach.

Online education is very much of the moment. Ireland’s first online PhD programme, offered by Hibernia College in collaboration with Plymouth University, has announced its 2014 programme. Full- and part-time students can work for a doctorate on the impact of technologies on learning; innovation in teaching; innovation in teacher education; and comparative education and internationalisation. Dr Seán Rowland, president of Hibernia, a Government-accredited elearning college, said the online college will award three full-time PhD scholarships worth €16,000 annually.

And Trinity College Dublin and the University of Melbourne have joined Semester Online to offer online courses to students worldwide. They are the first non-US universities to join the new online education programme, which offers undergraduate courses through a consortium of colleges and universities including Boston College, Brandeis University, Northwestern and Notre Dame.

In spring 2014, Trinity will offer its first Semester Online course, “Ireland in Rebellion, 1798-1916”, led by associate professor in history Patrick Geoghegan. The provost, Patrick Prendergast, welcoming the “disruptive potential” of online learning, said: “The growth of online learning has the capacity to revolutionise how students learn.” The programme claims to offer courses of the same quality as on-campus, with live virtual classrooms and students collaborating with peers while guided by professors. See,,

’Tis the season

There must be a few teachers out there in a seasonal pickle, struggling to come up with a good new idea for the school Christmas concert. A new website,, might offer inspiration. It’s the brainchild of Denise Nally, a primary-school teacher who has written dramas for schools and works with musical and amateur dramatic groups. The first page of each play can be previewed online and fees are reasonable.

Free talk for parents

Arthur Godsil, a former principal of St Andrew’s College in Booterstown, Co Dublin, is now an educational consultant. His first information evening, to help parents support their school-going children, is tomorrow at 7.30pm at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dún Laoghaire. Admission is free. His philosophy is that if you focus on what the child is good at, rather than trying to address weaknesses, you build confidence. See

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