EACH year the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) enrols 1,700 full and part-time students onto its education programmes and provides knowledge transfer and innovation programmes to over 10,000 people. When Covid-19 restrictions were put in place last year, CAFRE had to adapt very quickly to ensure that learning and teaching continued.
Martin McKendry, CAFRE Director, explained that the immediate and effective response of staff allowed the college to maintain its high quality delivery, a fact that was recognised by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) in January 2021.
Martin went on to say: “We invited the Education and Training Inspectorate to carry out a review of our online delivery. They confirmed that our engagement with learners, both face-to-face and online, has been competent and professional.
“The review has given us confidence in our new ways of delivering education and knowledge transfer which have allowed us to respond to learners’ needs.”
A feature of CAFRE’s courses which sets them apart is the hands-on, practical approach which provide students with a unique experience which enhances their employability and career progression. However, when restrictions were introduced the college quickly adapted to ensure that a high quality learning experience was sustained.
George Moffett, Head of Agriculture Education, explained: “Following the lockdown last March, our approach to maintaining delivery across our courses was to use blended learning and adopt a range of ICT solutions and digital delivery methods when face-to-face teaching was not possible.”
CAFRE also delivers knowledge transfer and innovation programmes to the agri-food industry. These are delivered face-to-face because it is recognised that peer learning, practical demonstration and social interaction offer a highly effective experience.
Fiona Dickson, Head of Agri-Business, explained: “Our engagement with industry across the Agriculture, Food, Horticulture and Equine sectors is normally delivered face-to-face, however last March we moved quickly to a programme of remote delivery using online events, as well as live and pre-recorded webinars, and this helped us to reach a wider audience.”
The ETI Review also made a number of recommendations which will help CAFRE sustain the excellent progress made to date. These include ongoing self-evaluation to identify additional areas for improvement and further training to help develop staff’s digital skills.
Mr McKendry welcomed the recommendations and added: “ETI noted that the quality of learning and teaching was good or better in almost all of the online sessions observed. The review also recognised the college’s collegiate approach and strong commitment to the care and welfare needs of the learners. Simply put, staff and students worked together effectively and supported each other whilst developing new ways of learning on digital platforms.
“My expectation is that blended learning will be an important part of our future delivery. I encourage all of our students and industry participants to continue engaging with CAFRE as our remote delivery continues to evolve and improve to meet the needs of the local agri-food industry.”