The Director of Cavan Institute, Ann Marie Lacey having an on line conference with teachers from the College, who appear on the screen in a seated theatre-like format. The same applies when lectures are being delivered to students.

Cavan Institute reboots learning experience for students

FUTURE Plans for new Dublin Road campus progressing

The students and staff at Cavan Institute are embracing a blended learning experience maximising modern technology both to teach and learn despite the challenges of COVID-19.

With Level Five restrictions in place until the end of the month, most lectures will now take place online after the Halloween break with the exception of practical classes.

The director of Cavan Institute, Ann Marie Lacey, sees a many positives evolving out of this new reality.

“We are well placed to move to whatever Covid level is introduced without our programmes and learning being affected. We want to ensure that students who are doing practical courses can continue to attend the college even if restrictions are tightened and we move to a higher level of the framework. Teachers and students are all prepared for that scenario,” she told the Celt.

In advance of the new academic year in September, the management team began putting plans in place under the guidance of the Cavan Monaghan Education and Training Board (CMETB) and the Department of Education.

“Not only had we to concentrate on getting students back into the college but we also put contingency plans in place to cope with what we could well be facing in the months ahead. We began preparing our staff to operate a ‘blended model’ with teaching taking place partly online and partly on site,” said Ms Lacey.

The director reflected back on the challenge they encountered last March when they had to close down the Institute in a day and move immediately to remote learning.

“There was no time to prepare. We had to really re-invent ourselves over night, with staff and students based entirely at home. This required a huge amount of co-ordination and communication in order to support students to complete their programmes,” said Ms Lacey.

In terms of preparing students starting the new term last September for new protocols while on campus, Ms Lacey said: “We formulated a detailed induction programme for students, bringing them to the campus in small groups of 12 and this helped the students to bond. They also received ICT training to help them learn about the online technology, as well as infection prevention and control training,” she explained.

The students have been most responsible in terms of adhering to the COVID-19 regulations on campus, said the director.

There are a number of digital champions on the Institute’s staff and tutors and students use Microsoft Teams as a platform for remote learning. Teachers have the ability to record the lecture and upload it onto the learning platform, so if a student has missed some segment of a lecture, they can watch it back in their own time.

“A lot of what we are doing online with technology is a foundation for the future. It has opened up a whole new world and teachers are fascinated by it. They have had to re-imagine how they do their job, but they are really engaged with it,” said Ann Marie Lacey.

The new blended learning format has presented further opportunities to the Institute in terms of looking at online courses and distance learning option that “will make our programmes more accessible to the wider community”, enthused the director.

Barracks site

In relation to the development of a new campus at the former Dún Uí Néill barracks site on the outskirts of Cavan Town, Ms Lacey said that CMETB has secured approval and funding from SOLAS for temporary accommodation on the barracks campus, and modular units will be under construction in the coming weeks.

“By next September, a number of our courses will be delivered at the Barracks Campus in those modular units, while we await the construction of a new state-of-the-art-building for the Institute on that site.

“That is still very firmly on the agenda and there has been very significant support and investment on the part of the ETB in preparing us for that. This is a real plus in times of uncertainty like this,” she said.

Courses such as Science, Sports Therapy and Beauty Therapy will be based at the Barracks site and this will afford more space in the existing Institute building on the Cathedral Road for the other courses.

“Work has just finished on a state-of-the-art facility for the Commis Chef Apprenticeship programme, which CMETB Training Services delivers here in the college,” said Ms Lacey. “This facility will be a fantastic resource for prospective students as well as the hospitality and catering industry in this region.”

There is currently a high labour market demand for staff with healthcare qualifications in areas like Nursing, Healthcare Support and Childcare and there has been a large increase in students taking up those courses.

The Barbering course is also proving hugely popular, as are the Science, Business, Occupational Therapy and Sports Therapy courses.

Cavan Institute is resourced for 1,100 students and enrolments, while down this year, currently exceed 900. There are students from every county in Ireland attending the Institute this year. “Cavan Institute is now a national brand and not just a regional brand, so I would not have any concerns whatsoever about numbers. Our students are our greatest ambassadors and the feedback from them as they progress following their time here leaves me very assured about the future,” Ms Lacey confidently stated.