Building digital teaching and learning capabilities after COVID

How has the pandemic experience helped to build digital teaching and learning capabilities? Our response at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) was ambitious and the scale of what was achieved at GMIT and Connacht-Ulster Alliance partner sites, and its alignment to digital transformation strategic objectives, has the potential for transfer of learning to other higher education institutions in Ireland and internationally.

GMIT includes five campuses in the west of Ireland with more than 7,000 students spanning 40 nationalities. It is committed to building digital teaching and learning capabilities. We provide students with a transformative third-level learning experience, empowering them to fully contribute to the social, economic and cultural betterment of society.

GMIT is a member of the Connacht-Ulster Alliance or CUA, along with Sligo and Donegal, and is transitioning to a become a new technological university in the west and northwest of Ireland that will include 21,000 students in 2022.

The GMIT Strategic Plan 2019-2023 outlines 13 goals that place the student at the centre of everything we do. Digitalisation and the use of technology is a key strategic priority for GMIT.

In response to the global pandemic, GMIT invested considerable resources in developing rapid response digital intervention initiatives to support the learning, teaching and assessment transition for staff and students.

This was made possible due to several initiatives, including the development of the knowledge platform supported by the Higher Education Authority’s innovation fund in Ireland (2019-22) and the creation of the Blended and Online Learning Transformation – BOLT – initiative.

The range of initiatives established since March 2020 that combine to build digital teaching and learning capabilities in GMIT include:

• The development of a digital champion academic team representing each department.

• ‘Ask Me Anything’ clinics.

• Digital teaching and learning small group workshops.

• A digital education webinar series, and alternative assessment strategies workshops.

• Show and tell insight sessions on digital technologies.

• The recruitment of graduate student mentors.

• Online PASS student leadership sessions to support the first year experience.

• The digital education development pathway at for academic staff.

• Digital professional practice alternatives.

• The creation of online teaching and learning guides.

• And investment in a remote teaching technology toolkit, for all staff working remotely.

Impact achieved

The enormity of what was achieved at GMIT, in a short space of time, was the result of: advances in digital education technologies and the rapid rollout of Microsoft Teams and integration with the Moodle virtual learning environment; staff willingness to engage in digital education learning opportunities; a focus on student engagement in the online learning space; collaboration with multi-disciplinary groups and peer learning opportunities across multiple campuses; and exploration and discovery of new innovative online assessment strategies and how to manage academic integrity in the online learning world.

From March 2020 to June 2021, the impact on staff and student engagement and the development of digital capabilities has been wide ranging and includes:

• 250+ ‘Ask Me Anything’ Clinics delivered to academic staff covering digital learning and teaching skills.

• 200+ webinars or workshops delivered online on digital teaching and learning development strategies.

• 6,500+ staff registrations for online DigitalEd webinars across Galway-Mayo, Sligo and Letterkenny.

• 125+ teaching and learning office video demonstration and video resources, produced and available on a teaching and learning media channel available through MS Stream.

• 45+ learning, teaching and assessment resources or special guides developed.

• 80+ staff completed an accredited level nine postgraduate learning pathway in Technology Enhanced Learning or Digital T&L and 24 graduates became Digital Academic Champions, providing one-to-one and small group mentoring sessions in their academic departments across eight campus sites in the CUA.

• 6,000+ visits have been recorded to the knowledge platform enabling self-directed learning and a range of digital education resources. The platform was widely promoted on social media during the COVID-19 emergency, and as a result further higher education institutes have accessed the platform for support and guidance.

• 10 specialist student remote learning support resources and services have been established to help student engagement with online learning.

• A one-stop shop (online portal) was set up for students called the GMIT Student Hub. Eighteen graduate students were recruited in August 2020 to provide online mentoring and support to students from first year to final year, and to create an online sense of belonging to GMIT.

Top digital teaching and learning topics where academic colleagues sought support and guidance from teaching and rapid response clinics and workshops include: Assessment Design and Set-up; Moodle; H5P online course design; MS Lens; Breakout Rooms; MS Stream; OneNote; Learning Design Strategies; Class Management; Structuring and Online Lecture; Creating Video; TEL tools; Moodle Gradebook; online whiteboard; and student engagement strategies.

What we learned?

Extraordinary goodwill was demonstrated by everyone involved in teaching, learning and supporting and leading functional areas at GMIT, and much was learned for the future in our digital transformation development journey.

The cycle of continuous improvement in digital education is ongoing in GMIT through action research studies underway on the initiatives outlined in this article and from reflective evidence generated from a wide range of stakeholders.

This is critical to our digital transformation journey, which is current today, but will also be crucial in the post-COVID-19 context, in which the use of blended and online learning is only expected to increase at GMIT and across the higher education sector globally.

Dr Carina Ginty is head of teaching and learning and project lead at at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland. Email: To learn more about GMIT’s digital transformation journey in higher education, check out the following case studies by Carina Ginty: An institute-wide response: Building digital teaching and learning capabilities during a global pandemic and Building digital teaching and learning capabilities in GMIT with knowledge platform case study.