So, how did I find myself researching in this area? I signed up for the first MOOC run by Stephen Downes, George Siemens & Dave Cormier in 2008 and previous to that for a smaller initiative called ‘Facilitating Online Communities’ run by Leigh Blackhall at Otago University in New Zealand. I remember getting up at some unearthly hour to attend an online group meeting, because I was very excited about these new possibilities – of learning with people all over the world – each bringing different perspectives and experience.
Previous to that, I completed a fully online MSc in Software & Information Systems with NUI Galway. Again, I was blown away by the possibilities and indeed the realities of learning with students across the globe. Asynchronous discussion forums brought together a great variety of students each with their own unique experience to share. We built an effective learning community, argued good humouredly about the intricacies of databases and distributed systems – we learned so much from each other. I was hooked. My thesis on that Masters explored the process of giving feedback to students in the online classroom and I worked with course facilitators to build a ‘Feedback Tool’ – basically a web system that scraped data from the LMS and provided a rubric based web interface for teachers to give targeted and actionable feedback (Loftus 2006).
That wonderfully collaborative research experience awakened me to the reality that this part of the teaching and learning process is about much more than technology. It feels like I have some unfinished business in this space and I’m delighted to be back!
Before this latest adventure in learning, I worked as an IT Manager in Sligo with GlaxoSmithKline for 4.5 years. During that time, we completely gutted the site IT infrastructure: WAN, LAN, Server Rooms, Servers, Storage and we had started the revamp of the application layer. And before that, I was a freelance IT professional for 15 years – working in a diverse range of areas – data, web design, system integration and training across a wide range of clients in the public, private and community sectors.
I also worked in the business and community sectors – as Director of Sligo Chamber of Commerce and as an Information Officer with North Connacht Youth Service. These experiences gave me a strong sense of place and a social justice consciousness which has informed my outlook ever since.