AS I PREPARE for another academic semester, I'm putting my focus on two key items consistently cited by my third level students as having the greatest value: my lecture notes and my past exam papers. Because once students have those learning materials in hand, they believe they have achieved a clearer focus.
This year, I'm chunking both of those items into collaborative space provided by Microsoft OneDrive. I've made separate folders for both of them.
In related news, Carl O'Brien tells Irish Times readers "attendance rates for lectures at third level are falling as students increasingly opt to rely on notes posted online by their lecturers".  This has not been a causal relationship in my experience. Students don't attend when they know they don't lose marks. And many students often weigh up my class schedule against part-time employment so since they need money to attend class and a local shop (most often Centra, Dunnes or Tesco in my experience) can put them on a roster, they're down the shops stocking shelves or running cash tills instead of inside the library, lecture hall or lab.
Dr Greg Foley, an associate dean for teaching and learning at Dublin City University, told an Oireachtas hearing that students today seem to have unrealistic expectations on the level of work required to perform well in college. I have three different cohorts of students taking degree courses leading up to BA, BBS, or BSc degrees. They know what they have to do. They get the work done. It would be handy if they participated in a collaborative learning environment during schedule tutorial sessions but I've figured out a system to cause that to happen and it's on the flip side of the "highly distracting smartphone culture in which they live" that Dr Foley cites. I put my course material on those student smartphones. They can tap into any Powerpoint deck, audio clip or short screencast by using their OneDrive app. The rich media actually streams onto the students' phones which means they don't have to download the material on their devices (because most students have cramped 16 GB handsets).
They can follow calendar-based elements of every module by tapping into OneDrive and reading a short outline of what's on that week, what's suspensed for the next month and they can see feedback I've given inside their individual class notebooks. This kind of skeleton course review is just the kind of perspective I had in printed outline form from my college lecturers in the 70s.
It's true that many academic staff grumble about the "growing dependency culture in which students rely on material posted on the internet by their lecturers" including "an increasing reluctance on the part of students to study or read any material beyond what has been provided by the lecturer". But I show the structure of past exam papers alongside the grading criteria which clearly indicates nobody can achieve better than a 50% on a major essay without incorporating expert opinion or primary evidence into the answer. So the bottom feeders can still pass a module by rote learning, just like they might have passed their Leaving Cert. But there's no way an average student in any of my five different modules can merely read and regurgitate notes. 
During his Oireachtas appearance, Dr Foley shared his perspective about how "we have evolved a paradoxical situation where education is dominated by discussions about problem solving, critical and creative thinking, 21st century skills and the like. Yet, we are increasingly adopting - out of a sense of fear perhaps - teaching methods that actually discourage students from being independent learners".
If that is happening, it's because colleagues have not modified the delivery of electronic materials to include a handheld touchpoint for learning. It takes some time to adapt one's teaching practise to get a better result. Continuous professional development features in seminars and external meetings every month where I work. The upskilling isn't mandatory but I find it worthwhile--if only to discard methods that simply don't work for me. In my Twitter stream, I can see colleagues attending BETT in London this week, CESI in Dublin at the end of February or planning to present during break-out sessions run by the Shannon Consortium locally.
If a lecturer feels stale from over-teaching, there are simple steps the Teacher's Union of Ireland suggests that roll back the hours. I've used the form letter responses and somehow assets are found to cover teaching requirement.
Admittedly, these are challenging times for teaching and learning in Ireland. I would have thought that in these sunset years of my teaching career that I would not have to pick up and learn a new subject every academic semester. But to cover maternity breaks, to allow colleagues to move up the feeding chain and out of the classroom rota and to grow new courses, realignment is inevitable. I know it's up to me to ensure I don't become redundant by losing my academic teaching skills. And part of that personal requirement is setting up clever touchpoints using the handsets students personally own and use more than they use the traditional course material on the curriculum.
1. Carl O'Brien -- "Students rely on notes and skip lectures" in The Irish Times, January 21 2016.
2. Bernie Goldbach is a creative multimedia lecturer and drone pilot in the Limerick Institute of Technology. He teaches business, sports management and digital animation topics.