Interview with Dr. Declan Kennedy, TAM expert

Dr. Declan Kennedy graduated from University College Cork, Ireland with a BSc in Chemistry (major) and Mathematical Physics (minor), a Postgraduate Diploma in Education and an MSc in X-ray crystallography. He subsequently studied at the University of York, UK and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Education and a PhD in Education. He spent over 20 years teaching science at high school level. He was appointed lecturer in science education at University College Cork in 1998 and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2006. He has published several science textbooks, and also numerous journal articles on education, many of them relating to learning outcomes and the Bologna Process. His book "Writing and using Learning Outcomes – A Practical Guide", which has been translated into 14 languages, and the fact that he has been providing technical assistance to over 30 countries globally, showcase his engagement in promoting and explaining the Bologna Process key commitments towards the international HE community. As a HERE expert, Dr. Kennedy participated in two Techical Assistance Missions: a Seminar on Teaching and learning: Enhancement Tools in Armenia (2016) and a workshop on New trends in teaching methods at university levels in Jordan (2017).


SPHERE Team: Can you briefly describe your experience as an expert for the SPHERE Technical Assistance Missions (TAM)? What, in your opinion, are the main outcomes of these activities?

Declan Kennedy: My experience as an expert was a very positive one. As my area of specialisation is in the field of education, I was asked to concentrate on a number of key areas in the field of higher education institutional development. The main outcomes were that participants were able to:

  • discuss new trends in teaching, learning and assessment at higher education.
  • appreciate the important implications of the Bologna Process for teaching and learning in higher education.
  • recognise the role of Learning Outcomes as the international language for describing programmes in higher education institutions.
  • evaluate modern developments in teaching, learning and assessing within a Learning Outcomes Framework.


ST: Why do you think the TAM mechanism is important?

DK: The TAM model is an excellent system to provide what could be described as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training to professors and administrative staff in higher education institutions in Partner countries. In general, the professors in these institutions are specialists in their own subject area and may not have formally studied education as a subject or may not have received any training in teaching, learning or assessment. The teacher is the key to excellence in  higher education institutions. Hence, the concept of organising TAM to provide the expertise needed "on the ground" in higher education institutions and systems is a brilliant one. The evidence gathered at the TAM events in which I have participated has clearly shown that the TAM model is an extremely effective one in achieving tangible outcomes.


ST: What do you think of the TAM model as a flexible tool for addressing policy needs?

DK: One of the strengths of the TAM model is its flexibility to address the needs of higher education institutions. Thanks to the design of the TAM model, the expert who provides the training is briefed by the staff at national and local level regarding the precise needs and required outcomes of the project, reform or initiative that is at the centre of the meeting being held. Every country has different needs and I found it a very interesting and exciting challenge to ensure that the needs of each country were addressed in the lectures, workshops and discussions that I held during each TAM mission in which I participated. 


ST: What lessons have you shared from Ireland and from your institution that were relevant for the countries you visited?

DK: Ireland was the first country in the European Higher Education Area to develop a National Qualifications Framework and this experience has helped us to share models of best practice with other countries. Many countries realise the importance of ensuring that the qualifications awarded by their higher education institutions are of international standard in terms of the benchmarks set down by the Bologna Process. Therefore, it is vital for the professors in these institutions to be actively involved in the development of the National Qualification Framework in their own country and in ensuring that the qualifications awarded by the higher education institutions are correctly mapped on to this National Qualifications Framework. In addition, it is important that they realise the importance of introducing a Learning Outcomes Framework for teaching and learning in the their countries.

University College Cork, Ireland, implemented training courses for its staff in 2006 and I have been able to share our experiences of introducing a Learning Outcomes Framework at university level with colleagues at the TAM events in which I participated.


ST:  What are some of the biggest challenges that came up in the TAM discussions?

DK: The biggest challenge that arose in the discussions and workshops was the need for training in the area of education - particularly in writing aims, objectives, module learning outcomes, programme learning outcomes, module design and programme design. Participants worked hard to gain an understanding of the relationship between learning outcomes, teaching and learning activities and assessment to enable them to ensure that a constructive alignment exists in the programmes that are designed.


ST:  What lessons have you learned from the countries you visited?

DK: The key lessons that I learned were that the participants in the TAM events required training in some key areas:

1. Participants needed to gain knowledge and understanding to write module learning  outcomes and programme learning outcomes.

2. Participants liked workshop activities which gave them the opportunity to gain experience in writing module learning  outcomes and programme learning outcomes and to share these with their colleagues. 

3. Participants needed an understanding of the relationship between learning outcomes, teaching and learning activities and assessment to enable them to ensure that constructive alignment exists in the programmes that are designed in their higher education institutions.


ST:  How do you think the countries you visited could improve the knowledge acquired during the TAMs?

DK: It is important that the TAM events should help to initiate a system of continued professional development in each country in which they are held, i.e. they should not be just "once off" events but need to be the beginning of a series of follow-up events to ensure that the initial momentum is not lost and that real and lasting improvements take place. For this reason, I recommend that those involved in setting up and coordinating the HERE initiative examine the feedback from various TAM events and identify those that have been particularly successful. In these cases, follow-up TAM events should be organised to develop models of good practice and study the success of these TAMs in a number of countries over an extended period of time.

It would also be helpful if the resources that I provided during the TAM events could be translated into the local language to assist wider dissemination of these resources.  


ST:  What do you think of the HERE model in general?

DK: The HERE model is an excellent one which works very well in practice and is greatly appreciated by the participants.  In all of the TAM missions in which I was involved, I was very impressed by the enthusiasm of the participants. They were very attentive during all the presentations and worked hard in the workshops to create some excellent examples of module learning outcomes and programme learning outcomes. I was particularly pleased with the large numbers of questions received after each presentation. These questions generated very good discussions among the group and helped the professors to share their own experiences of teaching and learning.

I would give full marks to those who devised the HERE strategy to include Technical Assistance Missions. It is outstanding in every respect. I have given training courses in over 30 countries and the HERE model is one of the best that I have encountered.


ST: What was your impression of the national HERE teams in the countries you visited?

DK: In the countries that I visited the members of the national HERE team were the key to the success of the mission. In all cases I found that the local teams had several areas of expertise:

  • They were very familiar with the higher educational system in their country and hence were in an ideal position to brief me on the strengths and needs of their educational system.
  • They had carried out an analysis of the needs of the professors in a number of higher education institutions and this allowed me to plan the training programme to address these needs.
  • The national HERE team were always very efficient in organising all the logistical supports at local level to ensure that everything ran very smoothly.

In short, it is a great pleasure for me to participate in the HERE initiative due to the fact that it is so well organised and it is clear that positive outcomes continue to be achieved. I congratulate all the administrative staff of the HERE initiative for their super-efficiency in all my work with them.