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St Joseph’s Ballybunion Distance Learning Project

St. Joseph's Secondary School, Ballybunion, Principal John O'Donovan, shares with us an exciting virtual classroom project he is working on with another CEIST school.

Background/History

Schools and colleges are key contributors to economic growth and national competitiveness, providing successive generations with the skills and abilities necessary for a vibrant economy and inclusive society. Our education system must continue to be responsive to and supportive of the economic life of this country.

We are currently facing new and difficult challenges which, coupled with the need to establish Ireland as a smart economy, will require our education system to continue to adapt and adjust to the changed circumstances. The convergence of information and communications technologies (ICT) is having the most profound impact on our society and economy. What is clear is that when such technologies are deployed in schools, they are being embraced enthusiastically by teachers and students. The efficacy of ICT in enhancing the learning experience is being proven both in the classroom and at home.

Within the educational system, teachers play a central role in developing the potential of our children and young people. Our education system must continue to be responsive to and supportive of the economic life of this country. In addition to the foundation skills of literacy and numeracy, the following skills will be essential for active, social and productive participation in the knowledge-based social and economic environment:
 

  • Knowing how to access and critically analyse information;
  • Easy familiarity with ICT and its creative productive use;
  • Ability to apply knowledge to new and evolving situations;
  • Being adept at cross-disciplinary work, collaborating and communicating;
  • Showing self-initiative, applying creativity and inventiveness in the working environment.
  • Being skilled at problem-solving and decision-making;
  • Being able to work independently and in teams;
  • Being confident in leadership roles;
  • Developing entrepreneurial skills;
  • Committing to life-long learning.

For the past number of years many schools are faced with the problem of providing subject options for all students. In smaller schools like St. Joseph's Ballybunion we may have 2 to 5 students opting for a subject like Chemistry. We could not afford to provide a teacher for this number of students. In larger schools like Mercy Mounthawk they may have 30 students applying for Chemistry and with the restriction on class size of 24 this meant there were 6 students not getting their choice. I saw where St Fintina's Sec. School, Longwood, Enfield and Dunshaughlin Community School were sharing a subject through distance learning.

I discussed setting up a link between St. Michael's College Listowel and St. Joseph's Ballybunion and Mr. Mulvihill agreed. John O Roarke Mercy Mounthawk also came on board. Mr. O' Roarke worked over the summer on this project and we are currently linked to each other through the server in our school. The D.E.S. is very supportive of this initiative as is the ASTI who fully endorsed our venture.

This I feel is the beginning of bigger and better subject sharing in the future. It is exciting to see 2 CEIST schools linking up with each other and helping one another out. There was a lot of Planning involved and I used the expertise of Stephen Linnane of Liosdoire Computers and Greg Tierney, Market Development Manager Ireland, which proved a great help in setting up the project with our I.T. expert Richard Wang.

We spoke to the teachers and students involved and made notes of all the shortcomings and came up with ways of coming around these.

Advantages of Distance Learning

  • Three or Four students have now the option of taking up a subject with another school.
  • Greater choice of subjects for students.
  • More subjects can be offered to students.
  • Schools will be in a position to hold onto students and they won’t be forced to leave.
  • School will be in a position to offer the same subject choice as larger schools.
  • Schools can work in partnership with each other and share resources, and teachers.
  • Can be used for Career Guidance and visitor speaker, example M.D. Kerry Group, Garret Fitzgerald, Bertie Aherne, etc may not have the time to travel to the 2 schools to talk to business studies class but can link up with video and can use it as a virtual classroom. Students can ask questions like any classroom and the 2 classrooms can see each other just like being in front of the class.
  • There would normally be eight teachers employed to teach these four subjects in the two different schools, and with this project there are four teachers employed.
  • There is a huge saving for the D.E.S. 

The 3 schools involved can offer the students a greater range of subjects.
St. Josephs can now offer Ag. Science to Mercy Mounthawk, Tralee and St. Michael's College, Listowel. We are also providing History, Physics, to St. Michael's College Listowel. Mercy Mounthawk Tralee will provide St. Joseph's with Chemistry.
We have set up a virtual classroom in each of the schools. Everyone involved are very impressed and saw this as the way forward.

Equipment required

1. The cost to each school taking part is €4000.
2. A server is required in one school.
3. One teacher to teach the subject to the two schools.
4. Each school would have an auto focus camera, projector laptop and a white screen.
5. Microsoft Office communicator programme.
6. Get broadband tested to make sure it is good enough, (Dell will do this)
7. Each student would have their own e-mail address.
8. Hardcopy of lesson and homework printed out by the school. 

Science students Physics and Chemistry can do experiments 1 day in Maynooth. They can also visit other schools to do experiments.

Click on Video below for further information on the project.