ONE WEEK AFTER Online Educa Berlin wrapped up for me, I'm still mulling over challenges I did not address at that well-attended conference. Specifically, I spent time looking at ways to enhance the top end of our curriculum, not the low-end where we lose students. I often wonder what Education 2.0 (the integration of social networking and collaborative fixtures in our third level curriculum) will really deliver. We have invested time and money into shifting student activities onto social networks and some might say that will be to the detriment of minority students who need tutorial work in remedying gaps to their second level education. Looking at the challenge another way, we know that millions of euro a year are given to Irish institutions of higher education but in a troubling percentage of cases, those funds do not result in any certificates, diplomas or degrees. The money comes in to fund student education and a significant percentage (above 30% in our BSc) flushes out because the students cannot meet standards. I've watched these statistics ebb and flow for the last 10 years now, sometimes sitting on academic boards where half of the candidates were washed out, wondering if we're doing the right thing. I know we've got some things right.
Work Experience Programmes. We have an excellent local partnership with dozens of local employers who take students aboard in structured work experience programmes. My hope is to dovetail this co-operation into industry oversight of selected fourth year creative multimedia projects.
Remedial Work and Learning Assistance. Our learning specialists have a vocational mission about their work--they need to be that dedicated because they are often working longer hours for less pay in these recessionary times. Some might say that their missionary zeal contributes to a race to the bottom for learning support specialists but I don't agree. Instead, I see a challenge to examine how our online tutorial sessions can help poorly prepared students catch up on essential skills, so they can avoid being bogged down in potentially demoralising remedial work. Bill and Melinda Gates see a possible model for this kind of best practise in Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona. Rio Salado offers brilliant tutorials and boasts a 66% graduation rate for full-time students. 
Virtual Education. I think we know how to use virtual education (online learning) and our Open Source Moodle installation has saved hundreds of thousands of euro since its first implementation. I need to do more with evangelising its functionality and also set aside time to integrate friendly screencasts that show new students how to complete online assignments quickly and efficiently within their first week on campus.
And now, it's back to Moodle, because new messages on my phone advise me student work has just arrived for assessment.
1. Claudia Wallis -- "Bill & elinda Gates Go Back to School" in Fortune, 8 December 2008.
2. Photo of Fiona Kearney from Media Writing online in Tipperary Institute.
3. Cross-talk on Twitter about #oeb08.