Learner profiles: Kathy Donnellan and Dave McCann


Kathy Donnellan (28) is from Killester in Dublin. She is
studying for a humanities degree with Oscail at DCU

“Getting a degree was always going to be more complicated for me. I was 18 when my daughter Rachel was born. I had her in July and started European studies in IT Tallaght in September. It was all going well until third year. An Erasmus year abroad was compulsory but I had Rachel. I considered taking her with me but it was impossible logistically and financially, so I had to leave.

“It was a pretty horrible decision and it came in the middle of what was a tough year anyway. After leaving, I got a job and I have been working in sales ever since.

“ I’m with a great company, Oracle, but four years ago I was working in a department store and felt that I needed more. Rachel was getting older and I wanted to encourage her in education. I started gently by doing a TEFL course and I did really well in that. With that boost to my confidence I thought I might try a degree. “Online education is the only option that makes this a possibility for me. It’s not cheap and it’s not easy. My Saturdays are gone, my evenings are gone. My Mam has been great, helping to look after Rachel but it’s a huge commitment.

“I’m studying history but I’ve also done modules in literature and philosophy. I love it. I really enjoy the Saturdays when the class comes together for lectures. Exam times are horrific but when the results come through it’s worth it.

“It’s busy balancing study with work and home life but I’m used to it now. When I finish my degree later this year I’m hoping to get a place on a part-time masters in international relations.

“ When I think back to four years ago, I almost feel like a different person. It’s not just my confidence in what I can achieve academically that has improved, but I’m also more confident at work and in my personal life. Getting my degree will give me a huge sense of achievement.”

Dave McCann (40) lives in Rhode, Co Offaly. A science graduate, he works as an engineer at Pfizer.

“I found out about Coursera on the discussion forum boards.ie. I’m a naturally inquisitive person and I thought it sounded like a great idea so I signed up. My first venture into the platform was the introduction to astronomy course run by Ronen Plesser, a professor at Duke University in North Carolina. I did it for my own interest.

“The course was a bit of a shock initially. The word introduction was a bit deceptive as the content was a lot more technical than I expected . I slugged my way through and earned a certificate of accomplishment which was nice to get but not the reason for doing it.

“The best thing about Coursera is that it is free , no advertisements or selling . The forums are invaluable where the community gets together to discuss the course and help each other with assignments. There are times when the professors run live webcasts . I never took part in that element of it but lots of people do.

“ Huge numbers log on from the developing world. There were 13 - and 14-year-olds doing the astronomy course which made the rest of us feel a bit inadequate but it just shows the scope of the thing. The experience was tough work but hugely rewarding.

“The quality of the courses varies as you might expect. Because there’s no cost involved you can dip in and out of courses which is nice. I have completed two other courses: How Things Work and What a Plant Knows. Both were fascinating.

“While Moocs like the ones available on Coursera have really exploded, I couldn’t see them taking over from traditional universities. Universities have a lot to offer in addition to the education that they deliver. However, for people who want to go down a particular route of study, a Coursera Mooc would provide a fantastic foundation . It’s also just great for someone like me who is just generally curious about the world.”