An online professional learning community during the COVID-19 pandemic – Yueying Gong

As an international student in Ireland, the first week of doing my PhD effectively at home was challenging for me. My family in China were so worried about my safety in Ireland. At the same time, I need to cope with loneliness and isolation. In this blog,  I would like to share my experience and strategy to keep myself motivated to continue my research working at home.

During the second week of the lockdown, I received an email from fellow PESS PhD students, Dylan Scanlon and Claire Walsh about how we could support each other through goals and group meetings. I strongly agreed that this was a brilliant idea to keep us, as PhD researchers connected, motivated and supported. In addition, we got extra support from our PhD supervisor Prof. Ann MacPhail who was interested in attending our meeting every two weeks to see how our work was progressing and any questions. In this way, we created an online professional learning community to interact with each other primarily via the Internet without the limitations of time and space. We started to set our goals every Monday via emails and have a meeting to talk about our achievements and questions though Skype or Zoom on Friday. The first time I shared my goals for the week, I found I was quite ambitious because I set too many goals in one week which heightened my stress levels. I also struggled a little bit with various distractions which made me anxious about the work I was supposed to complete. After reflecting on the meeting with colleagues, it was suggested that goals must be achievable.  This great suggestion would now make my working days more productive.

This online professional learning community fosters collaborative learning within an online work environment. The work environment is kind of informal which allows us to feel free and safe to share our professional learning needs, knowledge, critical ideas, challenges, difficulties, solutions, and learning resources. In the learning activities, we created respectful relationships to support each other which improved my communication skills. In addition, the weekly online learning activities contribute to my mental health and wellbeing, because we not only discussed our research but also cared about our social-distance life at home. I feel that I am not working in isolation and feel positive to keep moving my work forward. This community has become bigger during the last two weeks. We invited another two PhD researchers to join us which makes the community six in total. In this case, we are communicating with colleagues across different stakeholders (school teachers, PhD researchers and teacher educators) and nations (Ireland, China and Portugal) with different perspectives.

This is the strategy we use to make progress weekly and gain valuable support from the online professional learning community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yueying Gong is a Postgraduate Researcher and a Chinese Scholar Council Grant recipient currently studying in the department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick.  Her current areas of interest include professional development of Chinese physical education teacher educators in university.  Contact Yueying via email at or follow Yueying on researchgate or on twitter @YueyingGong

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