Paul Bourke holds a BSc and H.Dip in Ed. from UCD; a Dip. In Legal Studies and MSc in Applied Computing for Technologist from DIT and an LLM (IT and Telecoms Law) from the University of Strathclyde.

His early career was spent working in software development on distributed teams with Wang Laboratories in Ireland, US and Australia. He subsequently joined the lecturing staff at the Dublin Institute of Technology in 1989 and has lectured on programming, databases, computer graphics & image processing.

In 2004, he was seconded to a newly created position as Head of Learning Development in the former Faculty of Science. In this role he worked closely with colleagues across the Institute to oversee new initiatives such as modularisation, teaching fellowships and the adoption of new technologies to assist lecturing staff.  After seven years on secondment, he decided to return to lecturing again at the School of Computing where he delivers modules on Legal & Professional Issues and Team Project. 

The Global Classroom

My name is Paul Bourke and I would like to talk about my recent experience as Module Leader on a specialised distributed team project module called ‘the Global Classroom’ which is delivered fully online.  

The Global Classroom module is a key output from the EU-ICI funded project ‘GlobalWorkIT’, a project led by DIT’s School of Computing and includes partner institutes from Finland, Germany and Korea.  To date, the Global Classroom has been delivered on six successive semesters, each iteration consisting of multiple teams. Each team consisted of 6-7 students, these being distributed amongst partner institutions and mentored by a School colleague.  The aim of the module is to replicate more closely the experience of IT professionals in developing and implementing software solutions, within the international ICT industry.

What technologies do you use for teaching and learning?

The various technologies used to deliver this module include video recording tools, unified communications services, cloud services and project management tools such as Camtasia , Google Hangouts , YouTube , GitHub , Google Docs  and Trello . Teams have often supplemented these with other technologies that they are familiar with.

What appealed to you about using these technologies for your teaching practice?

In today’s workplace, information communication technologies (ICTs) allow individuals located geographically apart and/or in different time-zones to collaborate effectively on project work. The technologies chosen for this module enables us to replicate the modern workplace environment where team members can participate both independently and collaboratively.  Likewise the technologies also provide the module coordinator a means for control, for oversight and to provide guidance as required.

The Global Classroom module also meets the expectations of today’s employers as students get to work in global teams dealing with the realities of using digital tools, interpreting cultural nuances and managing other project constraints. Each team is allocated a complicated software system to develop, which ensures that all aspects of planning, requirements gathering, design, coding and testing are explored within an ICT environment.

How do you use these technologies with students?       

The School has produced content rich video lectures which guide teams on the various stages of the software development cycle. This content along with any additional resources are accessible via Webcourses in a timely fashion. 

 All students are required to join with the Module Leader and Team Mentors on weekly “live”, online sessions using ‘Google Hangouts’ and ‌YouTube video streaming. These sessions are used to communicate the requirements of deliverables in the week(s) ahead, probe teams on their performances to date and also provide an anchor for teams in lieu of any physical space such as a classroom or laboratory.

Teams can use ‘Google Hangouts’ for their own informal meetings where they can break down and manage their weekly task allocations, monitoring progress with tools such as Trello.

At key stages in the software cycle, teams are invited via ‘Google Hangouts’ to present project designs, project plans, risk management strategies, test plans and final implementations to mentors and other teams. Mentors again use this opportunity to probe, test and advise teams on their progress and choices.

Students are required to regularly submit individual Reflective Diaries, demonstrating their weekly activities and critical reflections. The Diary provides the mentor with an insight into an individual’s performance while affording an opportunity for guidance. Likewise, the use of an online ‘Peer Evaluation’ survey by students using Google forms provides the mentor with an insight of the internal team dynamic, and the opportunity to address any issues that may arise in light of the diverse personalities and cultures.

What do you think are the main benefits and main drawbacks to using these technologies?

The key benefits of the technologies used for this module are many including that they are predominantly freely available and provide for a real-time experience of team working within the virtual space. Teams can communicate in both synchronous and asynchronous modes helping to overcome the challenges of working across different time-zones and geographical distribution. As an example of the flexibility provided by ‘Google Hangouts’, I once hosted a scheduled team meeting while travelling on a high speed train within Korea.

The availability of additional cloud services such as GitHub and Google Drive, allows teams to simulate persistent workspaces where team members can share, evaluate and integrate each other’s contributions.

Evidently there are drawbacks with using these technologies, including the heavy reliance on their peer to peer nature which can sometimes mean low quality bandwidth. However, our experience to date has found this to be of little hindrance to the learning outcomes for the teams.

What advice would you have for someone looking to use these technologies with students?

I believe that the positive experiences and benefits realised within the Global Classroom can easily port beyond software development teams.

Initially, I would advise other adopters to spend time in gaining familiarity with the tools and all their relevant features e.g. inviting participants, sharing documents, streaming etc.  I would suggest that they invite colleagues to join them online for meetings, to gain an insight into the challenges of hosting successful and engaging sessions.

When dealing with students, ensure that they attend all meetings with both their video and sound channels open as this provides the widest communication spectrum in the virtual space.

Also, where some students show a reluctance in discussing matters online due to cultural reasons or limited competence with language, I find it helpful to use a ‘round robin’ approach when seeking feedback on any questions or concepts being discussed. 

My experience to date has been overwhelmingly positive, and the Global Classroom module has gone from strength to strength, as a consequence a similar module will shortly be introduced for teams at postgraduate level.

I would like to acknowledge that the success of this module is a testament to the advice and commitment of my School colleagues along with the support of our Registrations and Examinations officers.

This case study first appeared on the TELU website, which is packed with open online resources for teaching with technology. The site was created as part of a National Forum project in collaboration with CIT, DIT, UCD, IT Tralee and UCC.