Saturday 24 February 2018

Logging on to laptop learning

More colleges are now putting their lectures online

Dedicated student: Rebecca Keating, who is doing a law degree online. Picture by Jean Curran
Dedicated student: Rebecca Keating, who is doing a law degree online. Picture by Jean Curran

From her laptop in Cambodia, Dubliner Rebecca Keatinge is able to study Law at an Irish college. Other students do legal courses at Griffith College from their homes in Greece, or in the West of Ireland.

These aspiring lawyers attend virtual lectures and send in essays by email.

Welcome to the world of the online student, where geography is no barrier to learning.

Griffith College may be trying to do for legal education what Dublin-based Hibernia College has already done for teacher training.

Hibernia has become an established institution offering online tuition. Despite initial scepticism from the educationists, it is now the biggest trainer of primary school teachers in the State.

As well as teacher training, Hibernia offers a wide variety of courses, including Pharmaceutical Medicine, and Financial Management.

Laptop students such as Rebecca Keatinge, who could live anywhere, are becoming increasingly common.

Online tuition is growing in popularity in niche areas. It is not yet well established for undergraduate university education. Instead, it is frequently used as a way of earning a post-graduate professional qualification.

Griffith College reports a surge in applicants for its Law courses after it began offering some of them online.

So long as they have a decent Internet connection, students can see lectures anywhere in the world. They communicate with tutors and send essays by email.

Griffith is believed to be the first college in Ireland to offer online FE1 preparation courses for students hoping to become solicitors -- and some other legal courses are also offered online.

The idea of cyber-study has been around since the internet became a mass medium, but in the initial phases of the web, e-learning did not catch on as fast as many might have expected.

Slow web connections in the early years of the Internet could make it cumbersome.

But that has all changed recently with the arrival of fast broadband, along with the emergence of a generation who have been virtually reared online.

Increasingly, students are able to see filmed lectures on the internet.

At Griffith they are available within five minutes of a lecture, and can be viewed at any time.

Rebecca Keatinge is currently back in Dublin sitting her exams in order to become a trainee solicitor.

"I have been working for the UN refugee agency in Cambodia,'' says the graduate of History and Politics at Trinity College. "I want to become a solicitor, and I found out about this online.

"One of the benefits of studying online is that you can continue working,'' says Rebecca Keatinge.

"The college send me reading material and I send over my assignments by email.

"The technical people in the college have been very helpful in enabling me to get the material online, because the connections in Cambodia are not always perfect.''

One of the attractive features of the law course is that students can either attend lectures in person, or they can watch them online.

"We have some students who do both,'' says Dr Brian Foley, Consultative Director of the Professional Law School. "The feedback from students has been extremely positive. Up to 900 viewings of classes are happening on our Internet site every day.''

A crucial part of an effective online course is the accessibility of lecturers.

"We try to make it as interactive as possible,'' says Brian Foley. "Students can contact their lecturers at any time with questions.

"Sometimes that works better than the questions asked at lectures, because students have time to think about them.''

Geraldine Healy is currently studying for a Certificate in Professional Legal Studies at Griffith from her home in Sligo. She has a full-time job as a clerical officer with Sligo County council.

"Watching the lectures is almost like being there. There is a lot of reading involved, and if I have any questions I can email them.''

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