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Education / College students adapting well to blended learning, meeting hears

COLLEGE students on the whole are coping well with a blended learning model introduced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to local education officials.

Shetland College UHI principal Jane Lewis said staff are looking to support students “as effectively as we can”.

The college building is currently operating at around 20 per cent of its usual capacity as face-to-face teaching continues to be restricted.

At a meeting of the Shetland College board on Wednesday councillor Emma Macdonald asked how students were coping with the current blended learning model, which involves remote learning.

Lewis said student experience has been a priority for the college.

“The timetable has been arranged so that all students have at least one opportunity a week to come into the college,” she said.

Lewis also said a new student counsellor has “hit the ground running” and is supporting those studying this year.

College principal Jane Lewis. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

Acting principal Susan Berry added that this year’s learning experience is something students were not expecting – and do not deserve.

But she said students locally have adapted quite well to the changes, with many finding the flexibility of blending learning useful.

Berry added that the college has been helping out where possible when it comes to technology issues for remote learning.

This includes giving out dongles to allow connections to mobile internet, or providing wording to encourage students to more confidently speak to their service provider.

“Although not ideal, we do have good student engagement across the piece,” Berry said.

“There’s some [students] we are spending some additional time with.”

Involved in the process is the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association and partners at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Councillor Moraig Lyall also questioned if there would be an impact on students completing their courses on time, especially for practical subjects.

Lewis said “we are working extremely hard on that”.

She added that some of the college’s courses are already undertaken completely online, meaning there is a lot of experience in remote learning.

Berry added: “If we are able to maintain our current level of engagement and access to the building then we are confident that students will progress and achieve their courses.”

She said some more practical subjects like hairdressing and construction have been given priority access to college buildings.

Berry added that the picture locally appears to be less troublesome than at some colleges on the mainland.

She said the college was “really quite lucky” to have the workshop space and studio space it has.

Train Shetland’s Kevin Briggs, meanwhile, added that the organisation still continues to engage with apprentices but generally through phone, email or video calls.

Some things have began to ease up though, with mechanic apprentices now able to go down again to Inverness.

Assessors are also set to come up to Shetland, he added.

Feedback from employers involved in apprenticeships has also been positive.