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Dr John McGinnity: 'When is an Open Day not an Open Day?'

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Dr John Mc Ginnity, Admissions Officer/Assistant Registrar at Maynooth University

Dr John Mc Ginnity, Admissions Officer/Assistant Registrar at Maynooth University

Dr John Mc Ginnity, Admissions Officer/Assistant Registrar at Maynooth University

A key deciding moment for many school leavers is making the Saturday Open Day journey to a college that they are interested in.

Often parents are in tow, and have waited many years as they prepare their sons and daughters to transition to the next step in life’s journey. Normally there are lectures to sit in on, subject stands to visit and questions to be asked of academic staff teaching on the programme.

It’s also an opportunity to view the laboratories, chat with student ambassadors and to finish up with a campus tour. For those commuting a distance, there is also the opportunity to visit campus apartments and for many, begin to plan adjustments to family budgets for the years ahead. Most importantly a question is asked, and normally answered, will I fit in here? Is this the right college for me?

It has been a difficult and uncertain time for the Leaving Certificate class of 2020 who, as we write, do not know the dates for their final school examinations. How can colleges support students make the right course, college and career choices, at a time when there are movement restrictions, and campuses are closed due to Covid-19? Across many sectors of Irish society, and throughout the world, the coronavirus has created the impetus for individuals and organisations to look at how things can be done differently.

One area which is currently being adapted is the move from on-campus open days to virtual open days. In our own case, Maynooth University had plans well underway for the annual Spring Open Day taking place this Saturday, 25th April. Events overtook us. We wanted to continue to support students. Understanding that there are limitations to what could and could not be replicated, we asked ourselves what was possible? Could we offer a whole-of-university response?

The Spring Open Day consists of 60 separate presentations on all our subjects and degrees. For the past four weeks all university teaching has been online using a range of new technologies. We set about adapting the 60 open day presentations so they would be accessible in formats which are easy to view online (videos and pdfs), taking account of variations in levels of broadband access across the country and internationally. We understand that, presently, one cannot ‘walk the campus’, a campus that is an inspirational one with a blend of old, heritage and new, modern buildings. However, we created an aerial campus tour using drone technology.

Quick searches on the Maynooth ‘coursefinder’ platform online provides an opportunity to drill down into the course structures in each year of the programme, module by module and semester by semester. Important details such as entry requirements, study abroad locations, careers, modes of assessment and indicative timetables are all within easy reach.

But perhaps one of the most important things might still be missed. The chance to ask a question of a lecturer who teaches on the course, or a student studying that subject or degree. This human interaction is difficult to replicate virtually.

However, with webchat technology we will have over 100 experts across the campus to answer live any questions from students, parents and guidance counsellors on academic and student supports (e.g. accommodation, HEAR, DARE, scholarships) on Saturday; all from the comfort of your own home.

One positive unexpected consequence is that the University’s Spring Open Day which normally would wrap up in the early afternoon, now lives on for many days and weeks to come, as the virtual presentations created continue to be accessible for prospective applicants and parents as they make their future decisions on courses and careers.

Is a Virtual Open Day the same as an Open Day? I don’t think so … but perhaps the next best thing!

The Maynooth University Virtual Open Day takes place on Saturday at 10.30am, with the live questions and answers session open from 10.30am to 3pm. Registration is at https://openday.maynoothuniversity.ie/

John McGinnity is Admissions Officer/Assistant Registrar at Maynooth University

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