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DkIT’s Life and Health Sciences department to partner in €3m virtual laboratory project for third-level students

10 March 2021

Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) is involved in an innovative project that will use virtual laboratories as a teaching tool for the experimental sciences, one that has been awarded almost €3 million funding by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) under their Human Capital Initiative programme.

This ambitious and timely project will develop innovative approaches to teaching students aspects of experimental sciences through the use of virtual laboratories.

As a partner on the initiative, DkIT will receive €515,490 and will work alongside academics in the chemical sciences sphere at Maynooth University (project lead), Athlone Institute of Technology, Dublin City University and University College Cork. The five partnering institutions are working with education technology providers to develop courses in which a real laboratory experience is complemented with a virtual laboratory experience, through a blended approach. The project also will give students the opportunity to experience a real-work environment through virtual training and engagement with enterprise partners, and to help reinforce practical techniques and concepts, as well as management and project work.

Dr. Ronan Bree, Lecturer in the Department of Life & Health Sciences at DkIT and Institute lead on the project application said:

“Enhancing teaching and learning approaches within and across disciplines is a major focus.  In the past year, educators have worked closely with their students as the learning community adapted to a changed, online mode of delivery.”

This timely and innovative HCI project has DkIT engaging with enterprise leaders, education technology providers and fellow partnering institutions as key enablers in the virtual laboratory field. These virtual laboratory sessions will complement the learning and student experience of our hands-on laboratory sessions, which represent a core element of our teaching practice in the sciences.  This is very exciting for the Institute and it represents a significant opportunity for our students to further enhance their technical and employability skills.”

The target learners of the initiative across the partnering institutions are first to fourth year bio/chemistry undergraduates, and taught M.Sc. students across Life and Chemical Science programmes. Such a large scale trial, impacting over 2,500 students and conducted through a well-managed collaborative project, will enhance the exchange of best practices and mitigate risks over the course of the project.

The Pharma/Biopharma sector plays a massive role in Ireland’s economy, producing over €70 billion worth of exports per year and directly employing more than 30,000 and supporting a further 30,000 across other industries. The input of industry partners is central to the initiative. While these include the aforementioned education technology providers, the project is also engaging with regional Industry partners  who will give time to provide expertise on how students can best learn in a virtual environment. The Industry partners who are employing bio/chemistry graduates will work with the HEI’s to enhance the students’ experience.

In addition to Enterprise and EdTech partners, this project is bringing many groups together to ensure success – for example school and department management teams, Centres for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), academic lecturers and students from each of the project partners.  It represents a learner-, skill- and technology competency-centred project; one that will support and engage DkITstudents, developing laboratory and work-ready transversal skills. 

DkIT has a strong reputation for leadership in the area of assessment of learning in practical laboratory sessions.  For example, the recent National Forum supported and multi-institutional TEAM project, led by DkIT, embraced digital technologies to enhance assessment practices and the student learning experience in practical sessions. 

Speaking at the announcement of a total 22 projects to be funded under the Human Capital Initiative, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris said: 

“These projects will develop and change teaching and learning. This global pandemic has reinforced the need for us all to be agile and diverse.

“Crucially though it requires us to develop new skills and equip the next generation with the critical importance to the economy and the workplace of the future.” 

For more information on this and other projects awarded HEA funding under the Human Capital Initiative Pillar 3 programme see HEI website here

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