Staff and students across further and higher education colleges in Northern Ireland have been exploring new ways to ensure that teaching and student support services continue remotely while under lockdown regulations caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Across the six colleges of further and higher education (Belfast Metropolitan College, North West Regional College, Northern Regional College, South Eastern Regional College, South West College and Southern Regional College) staff have developed new ways to support their students, and have adapted to technology to help maintain quality education standards.
A fundamental part of a fulfilling college life for many students is the delivery of support services, including pastoral care, counselling, health and well-being and learning support. As such, student support, particularly with regards to mental health and well-being throughout this challenging time, has been paramount in all actions taken by further and higher education colleges.
The colleges have moved quickly to implement alternative support arrangements for all students, whose day-to-day lives have been drastically changed by the pandemic. Learning and support services are continuing online through a series of workshops, and there has been constant promotion of external support services. The counselling provision across all colleges, available through Inspire, has also been open for business.
A Level 3 BTEC IT Practitioner student with dyslexia, shared his experience of receiving continued virtual, one-to-one support, from a learning mentor who specialises in assisting with literacy, processing information and planning assignments.
The student said: “I didn’t get off to a flying start with online learning. At the beginning I was finding it hard to take part in the classes through the online learning platform and I was
quickly falling behind. Thankfully my tutors and learning mentor got in touch with me. Through a Teams Meeting we talked about the steps we could take to start learning from home. We agreed that I would receive the class notes beforehand to help me prepare for the lesson and to get more from it. My learning support mentor has also been able to continue providing virtual support through e-portfolios and discussion boards, to help with literacy, terminology and work plans, as we would have done in the college before the lockdown. This support has really boosted my confidence to take part in the online lessons and I’m back up to speed with my assignments.”
Sharon Pritchard, Student Services Manager at a college of further and higher education said: “Students are facing an incredibly challenging time – some students and their families may contract the Coronavirus, some have caring responsibilities, some students may struggle to study from home due to lack of equipment or internet access and others may be contributing to the frontline effort. Whatever the case may be, colleges have dedicated staff who are working immensely hard to ensure that students have the support and resources they need to keep up with their studies and also to keep a healthy frame of mind in these uncertain times.”