Online writing

IT Sligo Improves Access Through Online Writing

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

Few students have been allowed onto campuses in the past year. But for many aspiring students with disabilities, underlying health issues, or caregiving 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 e-learning, of course, is that it can help fill the accessibility gap for people limited by geography,” says Gerard Beirne, president of BA Online. “Financially, too, it can be more affordable, by 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 student union, clubs and societies, and social events and campus activities through “live” technologies.

Dr Una Mannion, program manager for 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 the work of others and contributed significantly in the workshops. Online students also had the option to attend live events such as The Word, an author series hosted with Sligo Central Library where they read their work to a Zoom Live audience who was also posted 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 the students present, the discussion box is flooded with support and ideas from their peers. We are constantly communicating and the learning environment is always student-centered.

“I was struck by the remarkable energy in the virtual classroom,” says Beirne. “Engaging 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 facilitating 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 witness the camaraderie among the students and how they seem to look out 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 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 have become 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 Years Were Running 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 on the 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, tried to make the most of Connemara in lockdown. “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 (fictitious) scooter through the Burren, being (fictitious) cursed by passing motorists, his destination being a cave where one says the Irish brown bear may still inhabit indeed. The end of the podcast, a patchwork of roaring beast sounds taken 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 setting. », Explains Beirne. “Independent learners generally find online courses to be 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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