While in Ireland last week, I became aware of the concept of “take-aways” rather than the North American term “to-go,” and so I thought I would reflect on a few take-aways from our recent, mostly sunny, trip to Ireland.
Let me start with my reason for visiting the emerald isle.
I had the pleasure of presenting a paper on some research my research team has recently completed on “Connecting Best Practices for Teaching Linguistically and Culturally-Diverse International Students with International Student Satisfaction and Student Perceptions of Learning” at the Ireland International Conference on Education, which was held in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, a short distance from Dublin. It was well received and left me reflecting on how I might collaborate with researchers in other countries on this topic. So many are interested in learning more about how we might provide a student voice in our research on the practices for teaching international students.
This is a small conference (about 100 participants) that left me with a developing network of research colleagues from around the world–all with an interest in enhancing education within the post-secondary education sector. Here are a few highlights:
- Gabriel-Miro Muntean, from Dublin City University spoke about the EU Horizon 2020 NEWTON Project’s use of innovative technologies and enhanced learning methods and tools to create or inter-connect existing state-of-the-art teaching labs and to build a pan-European learning network platform to encourage more students to consider STEM careers. While only a few years in, it shows great potential for turning on a new generation or STEM scientists and practitioners.
- Michael Plummer, from MAPco Education Consultant Group, shared a bit about misguided public criticism of education, and special education in particular. Findings from his study revealed that there is a continuing lack of knowledge by the public on the issues around special education. He also said “You can teach about the profession, but you cannot teach someone how to be a teacher. Teaching is a complex art, and not everyone can do it.” Very powerful stuff. Really made me think about the individual characteristics that contribute to inspired teaching.
- Deborah Patterson and Susan Carlile, from Portland State University, intrigued us with a session called “Nags, Bitches and Beauties: Women in Leadership” in which they shared the challenges facing women leaders, and recommended development of formal and informal mentoring program, use of a network of support within and outside the organization, and increased training for allies. I have seen many of these challenges first hand, and was impressed with their body of research. Hopefully, it will lead to action in the academy to enhance the way we support women along the way to leadership roles.
- Adam Unwin, from University College London, spoke about some themes from his book with John Yandell, Rethinking Education: Whose Knowledge is it Anyway? In particular Unwin stressed the challenges associated with the impact of Neoliberal measurement approaches, which have done a lot to “deform the landscape of schooling” in the United Kingdom. It made me reflect on how we can address this approach as the Ontario Government pushes performance funding within the post-secondary sector in the next several years. He even gave me a copy of his book!
But you can’t just go to Ireland for work, so we also took in some of the sights.
We toured the Wicklow Mountains, otherwise known locally as the Dublin Mountains, which borders the counties of Dublin, Wexford, and Carlow. Of course, they really are not mountains. Our tour guide told us at 561 meters, they are not tall enough to be mountains. But are they ever beautiful and mountain-like!
We also visited the western part of the country and took in side trips to Cliffs of Moher and the City of Galway. The Cliffs of Moher are really impressive. They stretch eight kilometers, reaching a height of 214 meters, with a vista embracing the Aran Islands. Almost thought I was in Newfoundland. The warm–we were told they are not always warm–winds whipping across the landscape took us back to the Harry Potter films, one of which was filmed here.
Galway is wonderful. Full of cultural charm, with lots of shopping and, of course, more restaurants and pubs than one can count.
Then there is Dublin itself. So much history with the experience of nationhood so near the surface of many conversations. Some of what tops the list include Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church, the National Museum of Ireland, St. Stephen’s Green, Trinity College, and the huge Phoenix Park that includes the Dublin Zoo, home to some very famous lions.
Our tour guides (two of the three were named John) used a wonderful style of speaking that I think I will try to use more in my teaching. Basically, they introduced what we would do, then told a story or two about what we would see, and then summarized before moving on to a new slice of the tour. Then, at the end, they shared some of the highlights. While it may be something that is just present in the Irish approach to interpersonal communications, it really worked, and was enjoyed by everyone.
Perhaps our true take-aways centre on the people, including the colleagues we met at the conference along with the native Irish we came to embrace through our travels in this breath-taking land.
I think we will be coming back.