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Bright spark Iain puts technology into teaching



Date Published: 28-Mar-2013

 It’s hard to imagine college professors having to go back to school but effectively it is one man’s job in NUI Galway to ensure lecturers know how to make the best use of technology in their every day teaching.

Dr Iain MacLaren is the Director of CELT (Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching), based on the college campus and he works to foster a culture of excellence in teaching and learning.

Iain joined the college staff about a decade ago to set up CELT, and college teaching staff can now avail of regular classes where they learn about different ways of designing courses, assessing students and how technology can enhance the experience of learning. One example is video-conferencing. Multinational companies with offices around the world have been using this for years but now a college lecturer can use the facility to, for example, engage the services of a guest speaker based anywhere in the world.

Not only has the NUIG been one of the leading lights in this nationally but Iain himself is also at the cutting edge, exploring a wide range of new and emerging technologies and approaches, including MOOCs (massive open online courses), which are amongst the latest trends.

Iain, a native of Glasgow, started out his career as an astrophysicist but a keen interest in technology and how it could be used by teachers led him to getting the Galway post, a move he hasn’t regretted though he misses the Aer Arann service from Galway Airport to Edinburgh. At the time he applied for the job a decade ago, there was a direct route between Glasgow and Galway, which helped sway his decision.

His settling down in Galway was not difficult as he happens to be married to a Galway woman – Una FitzGerald – who had completely settled in Glasgow and had even learned Scots Gaelic.

Iain has a knowledge of Gaelic and now speaks a ‘cúpla focail’ of Gaeilge. In fact their two children started their education in Scotland in Gaelic and they were easily able to make the switch. They are now teenagers, 17 and 15 and attend Coláiste na Coiribe, the Irish language secondary school.

Una, from Dangan, took a temporary position in NUI Galway when the family moved over but is now on the full-time staff in bio-medical sciences. Her parents were, in fact, both lecturers in the college many years ago.

Iain is passionate about his work and loves how staff from the different faculties meet and mix through the CELT learning sessions. “College departments or schools are quite independent and in a college this size, there is very little opportunity to meet people from completely different subjects. The University is so diverse and that’s what’s fascinating about the place, yet it’s a shame that we often don’t realise what our colleagues are teaching or researching,” he says.

CELT runs courses for academics which include topics such as coping with teaching large classes, incorporating multi-media material into lectures and adapting to online learning. Most staff and all students use ‘Blackboard’ which is an online tool for supporting learning, allowing lecture notes to be posted online, discussions to take place and students to post their assessments there too.

Down the road there will probably be more collaborative live class sessions built into online courses. There are already many fully online programmes offered and the recent trend is to offer taster classes for free to anyone who is interested; with top US university Stanford and other prominent institutions setting the pace.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013




GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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