Latest Entries »

Shannon teaching at HU Point

Flashback: Teaching architecture students about sun angles at Hampton University, circa 2007.

I keep shifting roles in higher education so I can learn new skills. I spent 15 years teaching in the USA (advancing my way up to Professor of Architecture in 2014) before coming to Ireland as an education researcher and now Lecturer.

Transitioning from teaching to researching was more difficult than I had anticipated, partly because the work is more sedentary, but mostly because I missed interacting with students every day. And while I do enjoy engineering, I also miss discussing architecture and urban design on a daily basis. Fortunately though, I also enjoy interviewing engineering students.

As part of my Marie Curie Individual Fellowship to Dublin Institute of Technology (2014-2016), I conducted 60-90 minute interviews with 47 women in Poland, Portugal, and Ireland. The interviews I conducted as a researcher allow me to connect with students in new ways.

 

IMG_7291 2

Flashback to Portugal, where my colleagues and I have interviewed 11 women studying engineering.

Since the end of that initial Marie Curie fellowship, I’ve continued this research project alongside new responsibilities. I’ve recently conducted follow-up interviews with 11 of the 47 women in my study, for instance.

After that Marie Curie fellowship ended, I also found work as a Lecturer on the teaching staff in DIT’s School of Multidisciplinary Technologies and found my way back into the classroom. Today, I get to work with wonderful teaching colleagues, and to teach undergraduate as well as Masters-level students. I’ve included a photo gallery at the end of this blog, showing a typical week of teaching.

So these days, I divide my time between teaching in-class 16 hours per week, learning new content for the classes I teach, advising thesis students, serving as a year tutor in our MSc program in BIM technologies, and doing research. (I’ve taken a break from grant-writing this semester and have enjoyed the respite.)

IMG_8374

Planning for future studies in London.

I enjoy exciting new adventures, though, and so I’m preparing to transition back into full-time research for a while, so I can develop new skills by working for two years at University College of London. UCL’s website provides more details  via a press release about the fellowship).

I’ll look for opportunities to teach informally while I’m at UCL, as well, and I’ll look forward to my return to DIT’s classroom in two year’s time to apply what I’ve learned through observation and research.

DIT has granted me a Career Break so that at the end of the fellowship I’ll be able to come back to my current lecturing post. I’m excited about this because I feel I’ve found my feet and my voice teaching here. Aongus (my partner) says it’s clear I selected the right profession since my passion for teaching and for students comes through in the stories I tell at the end of the day.

Now, in the month before I leave for London, I’m trying my best to track down the 10 students from my DIT cohort who I haven’t yet met for follow-up interviews and move to this research project ahead.

 

 

Hoping to learn a bit of Irish history today, Aongus and I hiked over to Dublin’s Collins Barracks after brunch. A former military station, Collins Barracks is now used as a museum with decorative arts, WWI and II memorabilia, and even a gun-running ship that was pulled up from the sea floor. It’s also where Aongus did his service in the Irish military once upon a time.

To our dismay (and that of five other groups of visitors who arrived at 1 PM) the museum at Collins Barracks opens only 2-5 pm on Sundays. We left disappointed and took the back way out of the Barracks, exiting at Arbor Hill Prison.

Finding the Arbor Hill cemetery, next to the prison, open, we decided to venture in. There, we discovered tomb stones of British soldier and their families who served as occupying forces during the 1800s.

We also found a memorial to the Irish who lost their lives in the 1916 uprising. The leaders of the Rising were executed in Kilmainham Gaol, across the Liffey river, and then buried in a mass grave here.

Following 1916 the Irish continued to struggle against colonial rule, and they gained independence from British in 1922. Later this memorial was built to memorialize their effort. The monument includes the text of the 1916 Proclamation, in Irish on the left and English on the right.

Today this memorial park was full of dogs, and dog lovers, from the adjacent Stoneybatter neighborhood. Upon exiting the cemetery on the northern side and into the neighborhood, we discovered a well-preserved WWII tank kept up by a citizen group and had a bit of fun.

But after a busy week filled with cold, wet weather, we’d had our fill of exploring. We turned to head for home.

We’d driven from work on Friday straight down to Bunclody for RoboSlam workshops and not returned to Dublin until late Saturday night. All this activity caught up with us on Sunday, but the comfort of a warm blanket and a hot tea helped us recuperate for the coming week.

The best way to spend a rainy Saturday in November? Teaching kids about electronics!

On Saturday–as part of Ireland’s 2017 Science Week, our RoboSlam team delivered two workshops in Bunclody, county Wexford. Kids as young as seven participated, and each built a working video game developed by our team’s very own Frank Duignan.

Workshop 1 – For students with coding experience.  Build the controller, play a game, change elements of a game using coding (15 Students, 10.45a.m. – 1.00 p.m., 8 – 12 years)

Workshop 2 – For students with no coding experience.  Build the controller, play a game (15 Students, 2.15p.m. – 3.30p.m., for kids 7 – 10 years)

The kids were such fun, and all were completely engaged and excited to learn. Bunclody Library hosted the Workshops, Toaglas sponsored the event, and DIT retiree Charlie Prichard organized sponsorship. For more photos and info, visit our RoboSlam blog.

 

I’m currently analyzing interviews I conducted during 2015 and 2017 with women in our engineering program who came to us from the Middle East (Oman and Kuwait). I want to understand how their experiences differ from those described by Irish women and by women born in non-Muslim countries.

IMG_5635

Dr. Ted Burke advising one of this semester’s RoboSumo teams in our design project lab.

I’m doing this analysis to help myself and my colleagues do a better job communicating with students as they adapt to new academic, social, and cultural expectations. I’ve learned that women must learn a new language (English) and a whole new professional vocabulary (engineering), in addition to moving far from home and interacting with an extremely diverse group of students–who in our college are predominantly male.

I’m glad to say this particular aspect of my research is progressing, and I’ve been accepted to present “A Longitudinal Study of Middle Eastern Women’s Experiences Studying Engineering Abroad” at the American Society for Engineering Education annual conference June 24 – 27, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

My colleague Dr. Bill Williams has been supporting me in this study, and he will present preliminary findings at the 5th Annual Engineering Education Research Network to be held November 23-24 at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London. During this time, I’ll be attending Ireland’s cITa BIM gathering here in Dublin, which should be equally insightful.

IMG_7712

Dr. Bill Williams (center) chairing a panel discussion at an ASIBEI conference at the  Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal in Portugal last summer.

In a similar effort to enhance communication among students and teachers, I’m an Associate Editor for an upcoming special issue in the IEEE Transactions on Education journal. The focus of this edition will be “Increasing the Socio-Cultural Diversity of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Related Fields.” Our editorial team is currently reviewing the full papers, and will return them to the authors in early December for them to make final revisions. I brought Bill Williams in as an Associate Editor on this project as well as the one mentioned above, and together Bill and I have helped include as peer reviewers, more diverse scholars and scholars from Europe and other parts of the world, to complement the peer review process for this IEEE publication.

img_5637

Wednesday’s RoboSumo class was going a-ok!

I’m gearing up for the new research fellowship by collecting data here in Ireland–data that I can analyze once I’m situated in London.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing women who are studying engineering in Dublin. Most of the women I’ve interviewed in this country have completed the design projects that you’ve seen in my prior blogs (RoboSumo, bridge design, and Energy Cube). Although I can’t show you the actual participants in my study for reasons of confidentiality, I’ve included a photo from this past Wednesday’s RoboSumo lab. Our big tournament is in two weeks, and excitement is mounting.  I’m asking students who took these courses three years ago about their experiences with engineering and with working in teams.

I truly believe that interviewing women from DIT over a period of years has helped me become a better teacher, particularly since I started teaching on these projects last autumn. In prior years, I was lending a hand occasionally in Energy Cube, RoboSumo, and bridge design, but most of my time was spent observing classroom and team dynamics.

img_5644

Trinity College’s main courtyard in all its mid-day splendor.

Today, I got to sit down and talk with a lovely young woman who started in DIT’s program four years ago, and who transferred to Trinity’s engineering program half-way through. To do this, I hiked across town to Trinity’s campus and the two of us chatted for 80 minutes, over coffee at Trinity’s Science Gallery. I hope the audio recording is clear enough, as I normally work in a much more controlled environment. There were far more distractions today than usual, yet the content of the interview was fascinating.

I interviewed all these women in the past as well, when they were first year engineering students, and now I’m catching back up with them after they completed several years of study. This is what’s referred to as a “longitudinal” study, and I am looking at changes and development over time. I have three more interviews lined up for next week, and I can not wait to hear about these students’ adventures in education and engineering.

 

img_5553The time has come to start moving over to London since my new research fellowship starts with the new year, so I flew across last weekend to finalize our apartment choice and leave some luggage with friends for safekeeping.

Aongus ended up having to work all weekend back in Dublin so I transported two 20 kilo bags and a little weekend knapsack to London myself. Rolled the bags from my flat to work to the taxi stand, into Dublin airport and out at Gatwick, to the train, into the tube, down a few block to the hotel, into a cab, and up four flights to our new home. I only had to carry them five flights in all–escalators can be a blessing! Note of advice: when transporting two big bags, it surely helps if one has four wheels. It makes the job much easier as you can push or pull, and easily change direction. You don’t have to carry all the weight in your hand, as it can rest on the wheels.

On Saturday morning, with the transport job behind me, I had the rest of the weekend free to visit friends, tour museums (Whitechapel Gallery, the British Museum and the National Gallery), wander the city from Shoreditch to the West End, enjoy good food, and take in a play.

img_5565-1The weather was delightfully sunny and the city felt festive. London was celebrating Armistice Day with a parade hosted by the city’s Lord Mayor. The people wore poppies on their lapels and little parades sprung up here and there in addition to the main event that covered the entire central city Saturday.

And *fall* was in the air! The only drawback to this is that people on this side of the Atlantic insist on calling the season “autumn.” To me, using this two-syllable word is quite a drag.

Loved ones back in the States, do enjoy the colorful falling leaves gracing your streets and lawns at this time of year, the brilliant red maple leaves 🍁🍁🍁, and bask in using the apt term “fall!”

For the flights in both directions, I enjoyed Aongus’ window seat, but await his return to my side for the next trip across. I get a big kick that he’s like a kid in a candy store when he sits by the window–viewing in anticipation whatever delightful new adventure awaits us on the ground. Life gets exponentially better over time and he amplifies my enjoyment of visiting new places.

London, we can’t wait to return!

 

20171028_155655

Beautiful “ferry” trees at Avebury in the UK’s Wiltshire region.

Last week I crossed the threshold into a brave new world. I traveled over to the UK, my soon-to-be home, twice to learn more about the place.

First, to celebrate Ireland’s bank holiday weekend, my partner Aongus and I flew to Bath. We rented a car so we could visit Stonehenge, the flight of locks at Devizes (the Caen Hill flight of the Kennet and Avon canal), Avebury which is similar to Stonehenge but larger, and the picturesque village of Castle Combe. In the city of Bath, we toured the ruins of the old Roman baths, the bell tower of Bath Abbey, Royal Crescent and the townhouse museum at One Royal Crescent, and weir and the Putney Bridge, as well as getting Watsu treatments and a night time soak with spectacular views from the rooftop pool at the Thermal Spa.

Stonehenge was spectacular, but Avebury had an even more mystical feel. The majestic old fairy trees with their thick boughs and knotted roots make it feel as if you’re stepping foot into C.S. Lewis’ Narnia or the Wonderland Lewis Carroll created for Alice. (Both of these were English writers, who could well have stood beneath the same magical trees we found here.) Wikipedia provides a quick reference to the meaning of ferry trees: “Many types of trees found in the Celtic nations are considered to be sacred, whether as symbols, or due to medicinal properties, or because they are seen as the abode of particular nature spirits. Historically and in folklore, the respect given to trees varies in different parts of the Celtic world.”

img_5227

Meeting with UCL’s Professor Nick Tyler.

After flying home, I flew back to London on short notice for four meetings on Wednesday–because my new colleagues at University College London had time to meet me and it was “review week” at DIT.

These meetings were in preparation for the start of my new Marie Curie research fellowship in January. The EU is providing funding for me to work at UCL for two years, to further upgrade my skills in educational research. During my short visit, I met with my primary supervisor Professor Nick Tyler who has an amazing record of research in transportation engineering and educational innovation. I also met with my secondary supervisor, Professor John Mitchell, who directs UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education (CEE). I also got to meet with the newest member of CEE’s research team, Dr. Inês Direito, who I’ll get to collaborate with in projects. All this in addition to visiting UCL’s European Office and quick chats with two other colleagues, Emanuela Tilley and Dr. Arnie McKinley, both originally from my own side of the Atlantic.

Overall it was a very productive day, and I even got two grant proposals read in route.

Across the span of the week, I had great experiences at work and at play. I can’t wait to get back to London, Bath, and the Wiltshire region of England for more learning, and more novel adventures.

 

My Friday afternoons at Dublin Institute of Technology are filled with civil and structural engineering projects. Today, we performance-tested several types of bridges, all designed and built by first year students. Here’s my testing gear, provided by one of my lovely colleagues, Una Beagon:

I believe that hands-on design projects are chock-full of learning opportunities for students, and I’m thrilled to be part of delivering project modules at DIT.

It was the first time for me to personally conduct the testing of the full-size bridge, spanning six meters across the pond in the courtyard of our building. I’ve attached a video of the test of the full-sized bridges and another of testing the model bridges:

I really love my job and yesterday was an exciting back-to-school kind of day. I crisscrossed the town many times.

My day started with two-hour a Construction IT Alliance (CITA) meeting/mini-conference where we learned about how Ireland’s national power company uses Building Information Modeling (BIM). Several of my colleagues from DIT presented and were involved in organizing the event. It was held in the beautiful National College of Physicians. So even though I missed seeing the beautiful sunrise that Aongus photographed for me yesterday on his way to work (shown below), I still had beautiful sights to see.

And as I raced from the CITA meeting across the city to DIT’s new campus at Grangegorman I saw even more from the top floor of a Dublin Bus. I hadn’t much time to get to the photo shoot for the upcoming issue of ResearchNews, published by DIT. This trip, my second of the day by bus, proved more thrilling than the first, as I had a much better view and more space than at rush hour.

The bus was efficient, and I enjoyed a little walk on our new campus before the shoot. It would have been a 45 minute walk, but the bus ride took just 20 minutes. The campus is lovely. Oddly, the irrigation system was running full-force. I say oddly, because the cloud cover was dense and ominous. I guess we have plenty of water here on our very green but very drizzly island.

The wind took a toll on the outdoor portion of our photo shoot. The windblown look on 15 of DIT’s highly-accomplished female researchers could make for an interesting cover photo.

Fortunately, one of the teachers in the shoot gave me a lift across town to RoboSumo lecture and lab.

This was our first day of RoboSumo this year and I had a ball. In fact, I’m starting to feel more confidence being myself and taking the lead from time to time in this classroom.

It took me a couple years teaching at Hampton University before I acclimatized there as well, and I’ll say that it’s exhilarating when you finally start to hit your stride. This is the start of my second year of full-time teaching here at DIT. Before that, I was in full-time research roles where I occasionally volunteered to teach. I’m loving being back in the classroom! And I feel like I made a positive difference being there yesterday. Like some of the interventions I made will have good effects for team participation. I think much of the effort and advice I put in helped students. I really look forward to RoboSumo this semester, and working with my colleagues (especially Ted and Catherine) and students in a Kevin Street.

After lab, I hoofed it over the Bolton Street to assist Avril with orientation (here it’s called induction) for the class of Postgraduate/Masters students starting our MSc in Applied BIM Technologies. I had a surprisingly good time giving tours to the new students and getting to know them.

Running into my dean, as I was leaving the building at 9 PM with my personal escort and bodyguard (Aongus), was a nice way to cap the day. My dean (Prof. Gerry Farrell) is always interested and supportive, and even he remembered meeting Aongus last spring when we were out with electrical engineering colleagues. Aongus and I were both impressed and touched that he remembered after the whirlwind BBQ day he’d had.

Likewise, I have been touched by the kindness of my line managers over the past few weeks. My family faced some major challenges, because my mom needed emergency surgery when she was touring Ireland. Dr. Avril Behan and Dr. Kevin Kelly couldn’t have been more kind as I helped get my mom through surgery, recovery, and return to the USA.

All in all, I’m thrilled to be starting a new semester here at DIT. Anyone who has moved country or made a major career shift will understand what it’s like to break through and feel like you’ve found your niche and you belong. Yesterday, I wasn’t walking on eggshells. I felt like I was flying with eagles.

Malahide sunrise–good morning photo sent to me by Aongus Coughlan

National College of Physicians on Kildare Street where the CITA meeting was held

Lobby of the National College of Physicians on Kildare Street

The room was filled to the brim with BIM enthusiasts. (It was slightly claustrophobic, actually!)

Introductions

DIT’s Dr. Alan Hore providing overviews

A fabulous list of interesting speakers 

ESB (the national power company) uses BIM frequently.

BIM examples from EBS

ESB uses BIM for planning, and also for communicating

We learned how ESB uses BIM in building and operating windfarms

DIT’s Dr. Barry McAuley presented research findings comparing Ireland’s progress in BIM with other countries 

Dr. McAuley, my colleague at DIT, was speaking on behalf of BICP

While I was waiting for the bus, I found this backdoor to Trinity. There’s always a back-door into a college…..

Thick traffic in Dublin…

…but a great view from the double-decker bus.

The Ha’penny Bridge

The James Joyce Bridge — one of the two bridges in Dublin designed by Calatrava’s office

There’s plenty of land to build on DIT’s new campus at Grangegoreman

The view across Dublin from the top of our new building is even more breathtaking than from here at ground-level

DIT’s research building, the Greenway Hub, is shown here to the left

A DIT Chemistry teacher, Catherine, has joined us in teaching the RoboSumo lab. We are glad to have her on the teaching team!

I had success in getting students working together to help each other learn skills

We also had a good time with icebreakers before forming teams. Icebreaker got the students talking to people they hadn’t yet met. Sometimes my years as a camp counselor come in handy!

When I don’t know the exact answer, I sometimes find a student who has got that particular type of problem sussed out to help!

Here’s Dr. Avril Behan running induction for the Postgraduate programs in BIM. We also lead the new students on tours of Bolton Street and Linen Hall.

The first year students have arrived at DIT and are getting orientation this week. Today, the whole group of incoming engineering students were at our Kevin Street campus to learn about electrical and electronics aspects of their first year curriculum. Dr. Ted Burke led the introduction.

I really enjoy the chance to teach in various programs and on multiple campuses of DIT. I’ve posted images from my morning walk from DIT Bolton Street to DIT Kevin Street.

%d bloggers like this: