Limerick college blends the old and the new

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

MARY Immaculate College has added another string to its bow, with the official opening of its new Blended Learning Unit.

MARY Immaculate College has added another string to its bow, with the official opening of its new Blended Learning Unit.

The facility will be used to test out different approaches to education for students of the college’s popular teaching courses.

Blended learning combines traditional face-to-face classroom teaching, with computer-mediated activities, in a ‘virtual learning environment’.

The approach increases the flexibility of taught programmes, enhances student engagement, and widens access and participation.

Speaking at the launch, college president, Prof Michael A Hayes said: “In our strategic plan, we state our target to increase the number of flexible programme delivery options and the greater use of virtual learning environments. One of the express goals of the plan is to significantly advance the use of blended learning strategies and new technologies in our teaching and learning environment and programme design. To this end, the new Blended Learning Unit will play a crucial role.”

The Blended Learning Unit will be research led, and it is hoped that it will lead to a ‘best practice’ strategy in relation to the use of new technology in further education.

Speaking on the Blended learning concept, Dr Anne O’Keeffe, director of teaching and learning at Mary Immaculate College, said it captures the “old and the new” approach.

She stressed that the concept does not provide a threat to traditional face-to-face learning and teaching.

“It is important to recognise the parity between old and new and not to see them in a mutually-exclusive manner. ‘Blended Learning’ is an inclusive term. It is important to remember that when we use the term, we mean the combination of both traditional face-to-face teaching and learning, coupled with online teaching and learning opportunities and resources,” she explained.

The launch was marked with a lecture from Dr Nic Voge, the associate director of the McGraw Centre for Teaching and Learning in Princeton University, New Jersey.

The talk - codenamed ‘It’s new, but is it better’ - tried to put to bed the myth that new innovations are necessarily better than old ones.

“It has to do with quality of engagement and learning opportunities and our ability as educators to critically evaluate pedagogical innovations,” he said.

Prof Hayes paid tribute to his colleagues at the college, who are developing blended learning courses, including the institution’s online certificate in Inclusive Care and Education, as well as courses in continuing education and international education.

“The sharing of what works and, even more importantly, what does not work, from these programmes will be critically important for us as an institution,” he concluded.

The opening of the centre comes hot on the heels of Mary Immaculate’s purchase of the former Mount St Vincent complex in O’Connell Avenue.