As part of an ambitious Irish Aid funded programme VIBE (Vietnam Ireland Bilateral Education Exchange) DCU, with support from DIT and Campus Engage, has spent two weeks intensive training with lecturers, teachers in the community and community partners with the inter-disciplinary STEM and community-based learning unit at the University of Science in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, as elsewhere, there is a shortage of suitably qualified STEM teachers to study and then work in this area. We are seeking to break down the barriers to access STEM for non-traditional students, and students with disabilities. A community-based approach has proved productive in terms of enriching the learning experience as well as in terms of skills development.
This unique Vietnamese-Irish co-operation has huge potential to enrich our learning experience while also strengthening communities and their resilience. In its practical roll-out that we have now begun, we find proof of the concept that we can harness the motivation of students and teachers alike through engagement with the community and its needs.
Participants in the training had an opportunity to develop ideas for their CBL (community based learning) projects, underpinned by CBL theory, ethos and best practice, including Irish best practice, facilitated by Joanna Ozarowska, Programme Manager at DCU in the Community. During this part of the training, lecturers and school teachers worked on identifying potential community partners and their needs, developing ideas for modifying the modules they teach to incorporate community-engaged pedagogy principles and considering assessment techniques for students' work in communities. There was also an opportunity to discuss solutions to challenges commonly encountered in CBL, such as time commitment, lack of resources and support from senior management, and building community trust.
Dr Vanessa Murphy, a lecturer in the School of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences (Dublin Institute of Technology) presented a number of case studies from Community Based Learning in STEM that have been successfully piloted and implemented in DIT. These included the “Slice of Science” and “Junior Scientist” initiatives, where undergraduate students prepare interactive activities for young people aged 8-12, in underserved communities, on a range of scientific topics. Participants were particularly interested in how they might implement similar ideas in their own teaching and were delighted to get the opportunity to try out some experiments which, as usual, turned out to be extremely entertaining and rather messy.
DCU student engagement coordinator Ruth Lynam commented that “Despite language barriers, communication was great, mainly due to the commonality shared among ourselves and those who attended the training. The challenges faced by our own community partners, lecturers and students, including problems of engagement, resources and supports, are inherently similar to those encountered by our Vietnamese counterparts. The Community Based Learning (CBL) we have spoken of and presented on throughout these last two weeks has been embodied during the training with our Irish team learning just as much from the Vietnamese as they have from us – indeed, a mutually beneficial relationship which is at the heart of CBL. The interactive and expressive sessions we have enjoyed has led to invigorating conversations and ideas which will inform work and change at home in Ireland as we hope it will here in Vietnam."
Head of Civic Engagement at DCU, Professor Ronnie Munck, who coordinated the bid, commented that:
“This exchange between Irish and Vietnamese higher education institutions is pioneering new ways to embed community-based learning in the STEM subjects that are key to social and economic development in both countries. We have got off to a good start with huge levels of commitment and engagement by our Vietnamese partners and the vital support of Irish Aid in country”
In the closing ceremony the University of Science Vice President Professor Tran Le Quan said:
“On behalf of the Rector Board of University of Science, I would like to express our sincere thanks to you and your staff for your kind support and collaboration in this important and meaningful project. We believe the project will bring many benefits to education in Vietnam, which would strengthen the friendship between the two countries and would be a good starting point for the collaboration between University of Science and Dublin City University in the future.”
The last words should go to participants Tai Chi and Le Tan Quy who posted on Facebook that: “we have listened to the basic concepts, aspects of applying knowledge to reality, dealing with social issues and serving the community…. We are somewhat tired…We are a generation of young enthusiastic and passionate trainee teachers…. We want more knowledge and bold education; these lessons bring a lot of interesting things. I really regret that you do not register to participate. This is the future!”