DCU chief calls for digital learning strategy

Ireland risks being left behind in the “online education revolution”, according to the president of Dublin City University…

Ireland risks being left behind in the “online education revolution”, according to the president of Dublin City University.

Prof Brian MacCraith has made the case for a new “digital learning strategy” as the world’s universities embrace new technologies. He said the focus on configurations and new structures for higher education colleges “risks distracting us from the big issues in education globally. I fear we have been distracted too much by structural reform”.

Prof MacCraith, one of the most influential third-level leaders in the State, was also critical of the 2010 Hunt Report on higher education as deficient in presenting a vision for online learning.

Technology-enhanced learning will have a substantial influence on all levels of education in the coming decades, he said.

“We need to establish a centre of expertise that can support all institutions. We need to develop assessment expertise – particularly in the context of learning outcomes and attributes – and we need to introduce multifaceted approaches to assessment right along the education continuum.’’

Prof MacCraith made his comments in a keynote address as part of the new Seamus Heaney lecture series at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin. In his address “Envisioning the Future of Education” , he focused largely on what he called the “revolutionary and disruptive impact” of technology in education and the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) by many of the world’s leading universities. Anyone with an internet connection can enrol and participate in these university-level programmes online.

Online courses

He said the scale achieved by MOOCs in a very short time was extraordinary. The numbers taking online courses at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, was already greater than the total number of MIT alumni in its 150-year history.

DCU’s Centre for Digital Learning is in the process of developing Ireland’s first MOOC.

Prof MacCraith said the university is committed to providing a “blended learning” experience to students, combining online and face-to-face elements. The rich and growing selection of open educational resources available online (for free) for all levels of education is likely to result in dramatic changes in the role of the educator.

“The traditional model of instruction, where students go to class to listen to the lecturer or teacher and then head off on their own to complete homework, will be inverted.’’

Seán Flynn

Seán Flynn

The late Seán Flynn was education editor of The Irish Times