As Hibernia College celebrates the 15th year of its existence, it seems an opportune time to take stock and reflect on the changes that have taken place within the College and the wider educational landscape over that period of time.
Hibernia College’s first Initial Teacher Education programme, the Higher Diploma in Arts in Primary Education (HDAPE), came into existence in 2003, at a time when the shortage of qualified teachers in primary schools was a source of great concern for government and parents alike. According to the then Department of Education, in 2000, there were at least 1,200 unqualified teachers working in the primary school sector. Today, thanks in no small measure to Hibernia College, the pool of qualified teachers has increased dramatically ensuring that pupils and students throughout Ireland experience the benefit of being taught by teachers specifically trained and educated to deliver the child-centred educational experience so vital to laying the foundation of future education and life success.
In the intervening years, the College too has gone from strength to strength and now serves the entire continuum of education – from Initial Teacher Education through to the professional development focused Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning, on up to PhD level. In 2007, Hibernia College added the Professional Diploma in Education (PDE) in Post Primary Education to its offering. Since September 2014, the College has delivered a level 9 Professional Master of Education in both Primary and Post Primary Education. It also offers a range of continuous professional development (CPD) programmes designed for Primary and Post Primary school teachers.
Back in 2003, when the HDAPE programme was unveiled, it truly was a new departure for education in Ireland. As the country's first online college, Hibernia College was a trail blazer long before the concept of online learning was mainstream, or even acceptable. For Hibernia College, the challenge then was to harness the new technologies that were just beginning to enter the wider public realm to deliver an educational experience that would match anything that was available in the wider educational sector and to make it available to large swathes of people who were traditionally excluded by circumstances from further education and study – people who could not afford to study full-time, those living in geographically isolated areas and parents with young families or other responsibilities. The focus was on using the available technology as a tool to achieve educational aims with an emphasis on access and flexibility.
Today, we live in a much changed environment where technology use is ubiquitous and growing at an exponential rate. Online and technology-enhanced learning is no longer on the fringes of education but lies at the core of the strategies of even the most long established colleges and universities. The nature of the challenge has switched from how to provide access to education using technology, to how to ensure that we are making best use of technology as a tool to achieve educational aims that have evolved as our world has changed, and, more importantly, how to equip and empower our teachers to do the same.
The Department of Education and Skills' recently released Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 states that ‘meaningful ICT integration…is a key component of a high-quality 21st-century education system’. At Hibernia College, we are committed to ensuring that the teachers we educate are immersed in a digital environment, so that using the array of tools it has to offer becomes second nature to them. We aim to instil in them the know-how, and more importantly the confidence, to add these tools to the arsenal of more traditional approaches they will cultivate over the course of their studies and their careers in order to best position them to foster those skills of critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration that are vital in today's content saturated, networked world.
Our students bear testament to this as the experience of this student on the post-primary programme shows:
"Since I have started the Professional Master of Education in Post Primary Education with Hibernia College, there has always been a massive emphasis on teaching its students about the importance of using ICT in the classroom. I have learned how to use different online resources and tablet applications effectively so that students can really benefit from what they are being taught. As a Graduate Student Teacher, I never realised how much of an asset this was until I started my first Teaching Practice. During a staff meeting that the school was having, I gave a presentation to the teachers on different ways they could incorporate ICT into the classroom. It was greatly received. During my second Teaching Practice, I was in a different school so I helped the Modern Foreign Languages Department set up a Twitter account and an eTwinning profile for the school. Additionally, I provided help for Modern Foreign Language teachers to use ICT in the classroom. This would have not been possible if I did not receive the training that I did from Hibernia College. I have presented and will be presenting at different conferences this year and next year in relation to eTwinning and using ICT in the classroom. I am very excited about this. I am not just learning about how to be a teacher with Hibernia College, I am learning about how to be a commodity to a school".
Damien Lonergan, PMEPP Student, Sept 14
At school level, Hibernia Colleges graduate teachers bring a deep knowledge of best pedagogical practices to their own teaching practice. Many of the schools that receive our student teachers on school placement comment on the way in which ICT and digital practices weave seamlessly through their teaching. One co-operating teacher commented recently:
“I enjoyed having a student teacher from your college in my classroom. It was good to see alternative ideas and approaches being used with the pupils in my class. I enjoyed picking up some new and interesting lessons, the use of ICT was excellent in all lessons”.
Research evidence suggests that ITE programmes are critical to the formation of teacher identities (Putnam & Borko, 1997; Wideem et al., 1998). Teachers who graduate from a teacher education programme need to adopt a professional identity that accommodates the ways in which technologies mediate what we know and can do; as well as who we are in the world of teaching. Therefore, it is very relevant and appropriate that student teachers on the ITE programmes at Hibernia College experience teaching and learning contexts that include virtual and physical spaces that maximise the opportunities afforded by technology. According to the President of Hibernia College, Dr. Seán Rowland:
“Our aim, since our inception, has been to provide a flexible alternative for people considering a career in teaching. We feel the strength of our courses lie in the blended learning environment, creating a truly engaging educational experience, designed in accordance with sound pedagogical principles. This content is then delivered by an outstanding, accredited faculty who work throughout the country bringing their expertise and experience to a new generation of Graduate Student Teachers in their own communities. What has developed at Hibernia College is essentially a community of learners – a professional learning network populated by students, tutoring faculty, placement tutoring faculty and research faculty.”
We have no doubt that the 15 years to come will bring changes and challenges that we cannot even imagine from where we sit today. This is the nature of life in the 21st century. In order to thrive, our young people must be capable of embracing those changes and applying their ingenuity and creativity to the challenges they encounter. At Hibernia College, we believe that the belief and ability to evolve and advance in the face of uncertainty is the greatest preparation our education system can deliver. Our job over the next 15 years is to lay the foundation by developing teachers with the skills, drive and attitudes to deliver such an education.