Trinity group proposes increased online lectures on long-term basis

It has been suggested that all lectures with more than 100 participants be moved online 

A leading group within Trinity has proposed that College move all larger lectures online and convert portions of campus space to accommodation as part of a suggested move towards increased use of online materials, the Irish Examiner and the Irish Times have reported.

In a document entitled “Trinity Futures Discussions Paper”, which was described as “confidential”, the group suggests that all lectures with over 100 participants be moved online so that large lecture theatres can be “reconfigured to facilitate collaborative learning”. 

It also proposes that a greater number of staff work from home, either on a full time basis or as part of a “hybrid working” model.

Though it does not suggest a move to a fully online model, the document reportedly advocates for an increased use of online learning. It suggests an approach whereby “online materials are provided and the timetabled class is then devoted to reinforcing and enhancing the students’ online learning, using group work, demonstrations and peer-to-peer learning.”

The Irish Examiner also reports that the document “alludes to” some staff being given meeting spaces rather than permanent offices.

This “Smart Working” model, the document says, could “improve effective use of the Trinity estate and prompt the transition from a traditional campus to a connected campus”.

The document also suggests that an off campus “Trinity Hub” be created, possibly outside of Dublin to provide an alternative work space for staff. It says that staff could move closer to the hub in order to reduce commute times. 

By reducing the numbers of staff and students on campus, the document says that freed up space can be used for accommodation or meeting spaces. It also suggests that buildings could be sold off or demolished, with the profits from any sales being put towards refurbishment projects.

A number of senior academics expressed concern to the Irish Examiner about the proposal. One described it as a “dystopian nightmare”, with another saying: “We are proposing to turn Ireland’s leading university into an online college.”

One of the goal’s outlined in Trinity’s Strategic Plan 2020-2025, published earlier this year, is to “develop new support technologies and an enchanced Learning Management System by 2023 supporting our learners whether on or off-campus.”

Speaking on FM104 this evening, Political Editor of the Irish Examiner Daniel McConnell said that they’re “not proposing that all lectures go online, but that lectures in the larger groups [such as in the Arts and Humanities] would move online”.

“What’s included in the document are detailed sketches of what the new repurposed lecture theatres would look like,” McConnell said.

The Trinity Futures Group was established in May 2020, and is made up of executive officers within Trinity, including the Provost, Vice Provost, and Bursar. The group was designed in part to “consider the opportunities that are triggered by Covid and have longer-term value for Trinity”. 

Trinity News has contacted College with request for comment.

Third level institutions have struggled financially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier in the year, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) said that a reduced number of international students could result in a loss of €181 million for universities in tuition fees.

Budget 2021 has allocated €3.3 billion to the newly created Department of Further and Higher Education, including €50 million to a once-off hardship fund for students who have been impacted financially by Covid-19.

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) allocation from College’s Capitation’s Committee is set to fall by €50,000 this year compared to last year.

Presently, most teaching in Trinity is taking place for students online, with the exception of some practical classes required for professional accreditation, such as laboratories.

College has recently announced plans to move ahead with the first phase of its Grand Canal Innovation District, which is due for completion in 2022 and is to feature an “Innovation Hub” for start-ups and enterprise teams.

Patrick Coyle

Patrick Coyle is a News Analysis Editor for Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister student of English Literature and Spanish.