On Friday 24 January 2020, Athlone Institute of Technology and Westmeath County Council officially opened an ‘Athlone IT Learning Gate’ at the Mullingar e-Working Centre, Áras an Chontae, Mount Street, Mullingar, ensuring Higher Education opportunities are available to those living and working in Mullingar and its surrounding regions.
The Athlone IT Learning Gate, a concept introduced by Dr Michael Tobin, Dean of Faculty of Continuing, Professional, Online and Distance Learning, seeks to formally establish a location/space where Athlone IT students and academic staff may meet and learn together in Mullingar, in this instance, through the provision of face to face, online or blended learning programmes. The Athlone IT Learning Gate represents a space where Athlone IT lecturers may deliver their lectures online, where students may study and access the Athlone IT library online, where students may view their online lectures, meet to discuss projects, and/or complete group work based on the requirements of the programme they are taking with the Institute. The objective is to enable students to study and work locally, yet have a learning space to go to that is warm, comfortable and ready to meet their needs.
The Athlone IT Learning Gate is located in the e-Working Centre Mullingar, adjacent to the Westmeath County Council offices on Mount Street. Christine Charlton, Head of Enterprise, Local Enterprise Office Westmeath, explained further that the “Mullingar e-Working Centre offers both hot-desking facilities and more long-term solutions for individuals who require a quiet work space. The e-Working Centre is suited to employees who are currently commuting long distances to work but would like to work closer to home. Additionally, it is available for small or start up business owners.”
Dr Tobin added that “The space at the Mullingar e-Working Centre is ideally located and organised as a remote working hub with desks and offices already in place, enabling students to have some of the third level experience in Mullingar. Additionally, it minimises the necessity to travel to Athlone when attempting to seek out a quiet and professional space to work in.” The concept “Arose from student/lecturer feedback commenting that online/blended learning students were often meeting in hotel foyers for group work, that their local broadband wasn’t good enough or that they had no quiet place to study or access their online classes. However, all of this is now solved with this progressive partnership between Westmeath County Council and Athlone IT, where together they are opening the Athlone IT Learning Gate thereby resolving those issues for those living in Mullingar and its surrounding area.”
Going forward, Athlone IT intends to partner with other remote working centres throughout the Midlands, of which there are approximately 20, ensuring that those of us living in the Midlands can access and engage with flexible part-time online/blended learning programmes, as offered through Athlone Institute of Technology.
Mr Pat Gallagher, Chief Executive of Westmeath County Council, further added that “The objective of the Athlone IT Learning Gate is to bring the delivery of Higher Education to Mullingar, to ensure that those living and working in Mullingar can access flexible part-time Higher Education programmes, as delivered by the Athlone Institute of Technology locally. This will go some way towards supporting Mullingar’s social, business and industrial communities through the provision of access to appropriate skilled staff, through either upskilling or re-skilling opportunities, to be made available through the partnership between Westmeath County Council and Athlone IT and locally enabled by the Athlone IT Learning Gate’ concept.
The Athlone IT Learning Gate is made available to students by Westmeath County Council as it seeks to ensure that Mullingar has a Higher Education facility. Going forward, it is anticipated that a suite of programmes and services will be offered through the partnership, to support and assist those accessing the centre as a remote working location.
Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, President of Athlone IT believes the “Learning Gate will also represent a location in Mullingar where Athlone IT may host information events and other such activities – broadening our reach and ensuring we are providing accessible education via online/blended learning channels across the Midlands. This is in addition to creating an identity within Mullingar, that Athlone IT is present and seeking to work with local industry in designing programmes and research opportunities. Athlone IT will use this as a location to proactively seek funding to support learning opportunities locally under various government and other initiatives e.g. Springboard+, ICT Skills and the Human Capital Initiative. Programmes will be identified through consultation with local stakeholders and designed to support those working and living (and possibly commuting) in Mullingar and surrounding areas. Our objective to deliver relevant, accessible programmes locally in the e-Working Centre or in a location affiliated to the Athlone IT Learning Gate located within the e-Working Centre, Mullingar.”
In recent years Athlone IT has been very successful in receiving funding through the Springboard+ and ICT Skills initiatives, both initiatives make learning and upskilling available to many cohorts of people (employed, unemployed and other) on a part-time flexible basis. At present the Institute has over 1000 students availing of their range of part-time flexible programmes either in an online blended learning mode or through attending lectures. Last year, Athlone IT delivered two programmes in Mullingar, a Certificate in the Fundamentals of BioPharma and Med Technology and a Certificate in Operations, Quality and Lean Management, both at NFQ Level 6. Additionally, in the current academic year 2019/2020 the engagement has continued however now via the online blended learning format. The Athlone IT Learning Gate concept, in partnership with Westmeath County Council, represents a facility specifically for those students who wish to work and study with fellow students in a professional environment with access to a dedicated desk and WiFi.