Education is one of the few aspects of life where the results can be, quite literally, life-transforming and life-long. Therefore, it is important enough to devote one’s life to it and to devote serious thought and reflection to one’s practice. In working as an academic for the last 20 years, Dr. Siobhán O’ Sullivan's teaching philosophy has evolved considerably to align with experience. She has gained from educating varied populations of students (e.g., school students, undergraduate, postgraduate Master's and PhD students, online programs, education consultancy-clients, faculty, evening degree students, overseas students, and teachers).
In addition, Dr. O’ Sullivan has taught across an unusually broad range of academic faculties—Science, Engineering and Medicine—each with their own norms and traditions. Teaching well is her core professional passion. She is an excellent communicator and, for her, the greatest professional pleasure is the experience of students engaging with their learning and challenging their pre-existing assumptions. Students must understand and enjoy what they are learning, become hungry for more knowledge, and feel comfortable and secure in the classroom environment. Dr. O’ Sullivan sees herself as their guide and companion on their individual learning journey. Intentionally, she uses constructivist teaching methods where students are actively involved in the learning process and in knowledge construction as opposed to being passive receivers of information. She believes that this is especially important in Science and Technology disciplines where today’s theory or dogma can always be overturned tomorrow by new experiments or approaches.
Teaching for her is not just chalk and talk and she is not the seer on the stage. She aims to actively facilitate learning through use of diverse classroom assessment techniques and authentic tasks as means to assess learning, to challenge students to engage their curiosity and also to facilitate group work in the classroom. Dr. O’ Sullivan believes learning should be fun and varied and, through her work on learning styles and her keen interest in multiple intelligences, she has always felt teaching and teaching style are not static variables but should be tailored to the needs of each student.
Students learn in varied ways and, to reach every student in the classroom, a diverse range of teaching methodologies must be explored and employed. The use of learning technology in the classroom has, over the years, added a significant new dimension to Dr. O’ Sullivan's teaching practice. For example, it has enabled her to extend learning beyond the traditional classroom. In a virtual learning environment (VLE), each course can be designed to contain tools that students can explore and learn to like. Most students are “digital natives” and technology is very much part of every aspect of their day-to-day lives so the use of learning technology often chimes well with their wider lifestyle. For example, VLEs can contain an e-library, assignments can be stored, learning resources can be added, students can contribute through involvement in fora such as discussion boards. Her experience has been that students like to ask questions and share views with her and fellow students through discussion boards; the use of blogs has also given her insights into student learning and e-portfolios have allowed me to work with students in the development, reflection and documentation of their learning journey. This work began with undergraduate students doing work placements where a learning log was required. She later applied it to postgraduate Structured PhD students who used the e-portfolio to store assignments safely, communicate with supervisors, record meetings, document learning and produce timelines.
Dr. O’ Sullivan is a reflective practitioner and has adopted action research methodology throughout her teaching career. She encourages students to reflect on their learning through the use of a reflective journal and she has used these journals/blogs to understand better her students’ learning experiences. This, in turn, has strongly influenced her teaching and has very much shaped the evolution of her interest in the potential of learning technologies.
On the curriculum development side, Dr. O’ Sullivan has written courses, module descriptors, learning outcomes and assessment methodologies with a view to always support and facilitate the active construction of new learning. She developed a Master's in Science Education (Biology), a certificate and diploma in Teaching Science to Primary School teachers and, as curriculum development manager in her prior position in Ireland, she developed modules for a new government-funded Structured PhD program.
Dr. O’ Sullivan has presented her education work at education conferences in many European countries (e.g., EduLearn) and she has been invited to speak at many conferences, deliver workshops, and influence and challenge curriculum design and assessment in areas such as development and implementation of e-portfolios.
In short, she is passionate about the interplay between teaching and learning in all its many facets. At every opportunity, she has striven to upskill and develop her teaching practice and to contribute to the Scholarship of Teaching wherever possible. Dr. O’ Sullivan wants to stimulate active learning and to tailor her teaching to the varied learning styles of students. As part of a community of scholars, she also strives to share insights and innovations with academic peers in formats ranging from classroom workshops to academic conferences and publications. Education is important and she has had a fascinating educational journey that has given her a unique and individual perspective.