When the college week came to an abrupt end in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, students and tutors across Grŵp Llandrillo Menai found themselves in hitherto uncharted waters.
However, despite the unsettling circumstances, they quickly rose to the challenge of having to work from home, determined to adapt to their new reality, and to find creative and effective ways of continuing with the learning process.
Covid-19 restrictions enforced on the public meant that students on the WJEC Art Foundation course at Coleg Menai's Parc Menai campus could no longer access the studio spaces where they would normally develop their pieces with all of the equipment and space they needed.
Not to be defeated, students set up studio spaces in their homes, sheds and even used outdoor spaces, partaking in regular meetings with their tutors using Google hangouts, and sharing their work on Facebook and Instagram.
Course leader Owein Prendergast explained,
I have been massively impressed by the students' continued determination, and also the way in which their art has adapted and changed over this very strange period. We have regular Google hangouts to discuss their work, which gives them the opportunity to present to me as their lecturer, and to their fellow students. I think that this pandemic has sparked a certain kind of inventiveness in the students, which has shaped their output dramatically. Without a doubt, technology has made this experience manageable - for example, Facebook and Instagram are ideal tools for students to use to display their work, and get feedback. All these different ways of communicating makes sure that students stay motivated and still feel part of the learning experience.
Whilst students were initially disappointed at having to cancel their public exhibition due to the current lockdown restrictions, tutor Owein had other ideas, and created a website that offers a virtual exhibition, which has been very well received by all.
However, studying from home has presented some challenges, as Coleg Menai Student Union President Gethin Jones found out. Having to complete his A-level studies away from the classroom, Gethin decided early on in lockdown that he needed to exercise a great deal of self-discipline to stay focused.
I studied in the spare room to avoid distractions like TV and social media, and took regular breaks so that I didn't burn myself out. I set small, achievable targets, but also made sure that I left time to reflect and wind down at the end of the day. To keep myself motivated, I made a conscious effort to eat healthily and work out most days to keep any stress in check.
I feel that college has done - and is still doing - a great deal to help students continue to learn and achieve their qualifications. All of my lecturers have kept in touch on a regular basis, and made sure I understand any work I need to complete. Staff have also made sure that students are regularly updated on developments regarding how our grades are going to be decided, which was very reassuring. It's certainly been a strange time but we, as students, are extremely grateful to the college staff for helping us through it.
During the lockdown period, students have also been given the opportunity to discuss their future options with former students who have now completed their first year of university.
Former Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor student Elin Roberts studied her A-levels at Dolgellau campus, going on to study a Liberal Arts Degree in Political Sciences through the medium of French and Spanish and majoring in Politics and Government at the Sciences Po University in Paris.
Due to the pandemic, Elin has been home since March, finishing her academic year over Zoom. She is now volunteering with the Modern Languages Students Mentoring Project, which is financed by the Welsh Government, and the Grŵp's students have been able to book onto online classes run by Elin herself. The project offers a number of classes, including conversation sessions (French and Spanish), new language taster sessions (such as Catalan, Taiwanese), as well as university lecture taster sessions.
I feel that this is an excellent opportunity for students to continue to learn a language or to learn new skills. Every student should have access to information about the variety of opportunities available and I'm delighted to be able to share my experience of attending UNIQ summer schools and Jesus College at Oxford University, of being on the Sutton Trust US Programme and of studying in Sciences Po Paris.
Busnes@LlandrilloMenai is the business arm of Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, delivering professional, specialist and work-based training, and working in partnership with employers to design training programmes that meet specific employer needs. The department has continued to support the business community in North Wales through the current crisis, working hard to make a range of their short courses available online.
Gareth Hughes, Project Development Lead - Construction, Energy, STEM and Innovation, has received positive feedback from online attendees, including Logan Bett who completed the one-day course in Health and Safety Awareness. He said,
I haven't done any online courses before, but the material was very well presented. The tutor made sure that we were all up to speed and added personal experiences to highlight the importance and reality of what he was teaching. Also, I received a very detailed course book days before the course took place, so I had the chance to have a look at the content in advance.
I would definitely choose to do other courses of this type online in the future. It's so convenient - it saves time and the cost of travelling to a venue. In my opinion, it makes courses like these far more accessible.
Chief Executive Officer of Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, Dafydd Evans said,
These are just a few examples of our ability as an organisation to adapt to the new scenario in which we find ourselves. We have learnt much in last few weeks and our prospective students for this September can be confident that they are joining a college well-versed and prepared for the delivery of a blended learning experience, partly on campus and partly using digital technology.