IT Sligo Improves Access Through Online Writing


Course Profile: IT Sligo’s BA in Writing and Literature

Few students have been admitted to campuses in the past year. But for many aspiring students with disabilities, with underlying health conditions or care commitments, campuses have long been inaccessible.

Last year IT Sligo launched one. The course, part of IT Sligo’s Higher Education for All initiative, a partnership between the institute, Mayo Sligo Leitrim Education and Training Board (ETB), Donegal ETB and Family Carers Ireland, was designed to be fully online to make it more accessible. to everybody.

“The great advantage of online learning, of course, is that it can help fill the accessibility gap for people limited by geographic location,” says Gerard Beirne, president of BA Online. “Financially, too, it can be more affordable, eliminating the cost of meals, travel or accommodation. “

The college was keen to ensure that students taking an online program did not miss the social element of an on-campus program and to that end designed an online space with daily live campus footage, a “virtual canteen” for lunch, an online environment that connects with the student union, clubs and societies, and campus social events and activities through “live” technologies.

Dr Una Mannion, program director of the BA in Writing and Literature, explains that IT Sligo has created interactive online workshops where students collaborate on projects, share their writing, and give and receive feedback from their peers.

“The online community of writers has worked. The students trusted each other, got to know each other’s work and contributed significantly in the workshops. Online students also had the opportunity to attend live events such as The Word, an author series run with Sligo Central Library where they read their work to a live Zoom audience which was also broadcast on Facebook. They attended events together, including book launches and online theater. We brought together groups of students from the on-campus program and the online group to show films that they each made in digital storytelling. The online platform has allowed us to create a community of which we all feel part. “

Mannion and Beirne say the distance has become negligible. A student based in Vienna, Austria, worked with a student from Carrick-on-Shannon on a creative response to Sophocles’ play Antigone.

“Students who in the past might have been uncomfortable speaking in front of a class are easier to integrate,” says Mannion. “Everyone participates and when students present the discussion box, the support and ideas of their peers are inundated. We are constantly communicating and the learning environment is always student-centered.

“I was struck by the remarkable energy of the virtual classroom,” says Beirne. “Interacting with people up close on screen created a surprising sense of intimacy distinct from the physical setting. The breakout rooms have been very successful and allow students to be easily divided into small groups, which facilitates peer participation.

“Online classroom tools mean that groups can still interact with each other. For students, it helps them break down barriers and get to know each other socially. Again, from my observations, the “closeness” of it all seems to encourage bonding between them, and I love how it promotes self-direction. It was heartwarming to see the camaraderie between the students and the way they seem to care for each other. “

Sarah O’Keeffe, class representative, says she has become a member of a virtual community. “Despite the impossibility of being physically together on campus, we formed an almost immediate bond. We’ve created chats on WhatsApp and Teams, as well as frequent “coffee breaks” on Zoom. We used technology to support each other and a classmate was just a click away. As circulating papers in a classroom was not an option, shared files or even split screens became commonplace. The online format of the course offers remote accessibility, being in different locations in Ireland and even in Europe. This allows for a more diverse group, bringing new perspectives.

O’Keeffe created a podcast, “If 5-year-olds ran the country,” in which a mock early election installed some of his son’s classmates in elementary school as new ministers. “She interviewed the children by phone, recorded their thoughts and edited their voices in a New Dáil newsletter,” explains Alice Lyons, teacher of the course.

Another student, comedian Connor McDonough-Flynn, has tried to make the most of the locked Connemara. “He improvised new material to try and develop the super power of seeing in the dark while walking and talking into his light-up phone in the unlit fields around him,” Lyons explains.

The resulting ‘Land of the White Vans’ podcast also sees McDonough-Flynn speeding on his (fictional) scooter through the Burren, being (fictitious) cursed by passing motorists, his destination a cave where it is said that the Irish brown bear may still inhabit indeed.The end of the podcast, a patchwork of roaring beast sounds from YouTube clips, is worthy of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.

“There are many different ways of learning and while some students thrive in the classroom, others, I have found, are more comfortable participating remotely in a small online group,” says Beirne. . “Independent learners generally find online courses well suited to their needs. It also seems easier to respond to and complete a variety of learning styles, whether visual or auditory, using audio, video, graphics, text, etc.

Beirne says the course has caused him to re-evaluate how he engages. “The classroom has become a much more interactive learning environment where my role is to guide students and facilitate discussions among them. It becomes a learner-centered approach that lends itself to greater student involvement and is more personally meaningful.

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Virtual since 2014: MSc in Data Analysis

Data analytics is one of the main areas of growth over the past decade, and the pandemic has accelerated the need for businesses and organizations to operate efficiently online.

In 2014, UCD launched a part-time three-year MSc in Data Analysis, with students also having the option of leaving after one year with a professional degree in Data Analysis.

The course was fully online from the start, so the Covid-19 emergency hasn’t changed too much. “Our lectures have always been pre-recorded,” says Dr Michael Salter-Townshend, program director and lecturer at UCD’s School of Mathematics and Statistics. “Our students are located all over the world and generally work full time, so we had to be as flexible as possible. “

Salter-Townshend says the course is different from a Free Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) because of the level of interaction between students and teachers.

“A few years ago we were offering live tutorials, but they weren’t suitable for all students, especially those based overseas where there was a jet lag. The interaction takes place mainly through discussion forums. These are study-oriented and supervised by a doctoral or post-doctoral tutor who answers as many questions as possible; if there is something that they find complex, it is sent back to the director. Usually, they don’t wait more than 24 hours for a response.

Students are generally advised that they will need to devote around 10 hours per module per week, with two modules being studied at any given time. Employers often give their staff time off to study. Many of the lecturers and tutors in the online course are partially funded by Insight, Science Foundation Ireland’s data analytics center, meaning they can tap into broader research expertise.

When Covid-19 hit, the course continued as usual, but the assessment changed. “Previously, students had to take exams at the end of each term at RDS. [Dublin], even if they had to fly. This was not possible with the restrictions of Covid-19. We looked at surveillance – monitoring students on exams with a camera – but surveillance looks for unusual typing patterns, and since our modules are computer program based, that would have flagged all of the video. Instead, I wrote an eight question document, with two versions of each document. Then I shortened the exam and gave them two hours to complete it so they couldn’t really check in with each other.

This change may be permanent, making the UCD course fully and completely online. “From the UCD’s point of view, it saves money; from the students’ point of view, they save on travel and a hotel room. This could be a very good option for our international students.

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