Teachers and lecturers are offered a free online course to help them teach students during the coronavirus crisis

Dublin City University (DCU) is offering teachers and lecturers a free online course to help them make the most of technology to continue teaching their own students during the Covid-19 school and college closure.

he three-week program, hosted by DCU, in partnership with global online education platform, FutureLearn, begins on Monday. It will repeat every three weeks.

One of the most remarkable features of the initiative is the speed with which it came to life – designed only this week to respond quickly to the needs of educators, in Ireland and around the world.

The course is open to teachers, lecturers and trainers, not just in Ireland, but around the world, and since its launch on Wednesday, around 3,000 educators from more than 125 countries – including 150 from Ireland – have signed up.

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Prof Mark Brown, National Institute for Digital Learning, DCU

Prof Mark Brown, National Institute for Digital Learning, DCU

In Ireland, the coronavirus crisis has disrupted the education of over a million primary, post-primary, further and higher education pupils in Ireland and it is estimated that, worldwide, over 850 Millions of children and young people – about half of the world’s student population – are not in school or college.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has raised the prospect of a nationwide closure of schools and colleges, which will continue for months, and teachers have been urged to maintain continuity of education.

The Department of Education’s Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), textbook publishers and others make resources available online, but even in communities where internet connectivity is not a a barrier to digital teaching and learning, it only partially fills the void left by school closures.

The sudden shift to online, and distance learning, presents challenges even for practitioners accustomed to using technology in the classroom.

And many teachers lack the skills to deliver lessons online or are uncomfortable working with online educational platforms and resources when they are not in the same room as their students.

The “How to Teach Online: Ensuring Continuity for Students” program has been specifically designed for those who need to quickly transition from face-to-face to online teaching in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The course does not focus on subject content, but on practical steps and guidance in online teaching and student support, with participants encouraged to reflect on their work, adapt their approaches and share their experiences.

It all started last Monday when DCU’s National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) hosted a webinar for European educators, in partnership with the European Association of Distance Learning Universities, as a contribution to the current debate on the challenges and opportunities for online education arising from the current crisis.

DCU already has a strategic partnership with FutureLearn, which offers online short courses as well as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to millions of subscribers worldwide.

After Monday’s webinar, NIDL Director Professor Mark Brown said that FutureLearn approached DCU, there was a meeting on Tuesday and the course launched on Wednesday.

Professor Brown, who contributed to the course content and will be a course mentor, said “the requirement to act quickly was absolutely paramount”.

He said that due to the exceptional circumstances, the course was not intended to be heavily theoretical. “There’s a theory behind it, but we want to create a really powerful educational community. As we have seen, power comes from the community.

He recalled that DCU hosted a global e-learning conference in November, of which FutureLearn was the main sponsor, and “when we had discussions with 800 delegates from 80 countries, we could never have predicted that, three months later, online was going mainstream, and not just mainstream, but global.