SERC is one of the largest further and higher education colleges in Northern Ireland, and is committed to quality education and learning opportunities for local communities. The College has 4 main campuses, 980 staff and over 35,000 annual enrolments with over 40 different subject areas for full or part-time study, and has the highest student success rate in Northern Ireland. SERC aims to provide an experience that inspires, transforms and enriches by nurturing innovation and providing opportunities for development beyond academic and vocational achievements.
As the skills needs of employers evolve, the challenge for FE is to better prepare students to meet them. Teaching and learning delivery needs to be flexible and responsive, developing enterprising students through various instructional models.
The College sought to improve the engagement and learning experience of Level 3 Animal Management students by developing and embedding a high quality, real-life project-based learning opportunity. A neglected woodland bordering a College campus was identified as a project for three units of the qualification.
Students previously met the outcomes of these units by devising theoretical scenarios and achievement was very good, however, it was felt that by using the woodland they would benefit from more than just fulfilling requirements.
The Woodland Project (WP) was piloted in 2013 with students taking responsibility for the regeneration of the woodland and activity to increase bio-diversity for one year. The kind of practical activity in which the students got involved included:
- Completing a tree survey and engaging a tree surgeon to clear dangerous/damaged trees
- Wildlife population survey
- Ground clearance of invasive species
- Commission of bird boxes, hide and insect hotels
- Path construction
- Pond installation
- Wildflower garden planting, working with horticulture students
To date 54 core Animal Management students have managed and delivered the project, with continued high levels of achievement and retention over the last 3 years.
Employability skills development is evident through successful completion of the units, student reflection, and student and staff feedback. Key skills highlighted include teamwork, self-confidence, working to deadlines and financial management, as well as new professional skills. The WP has provided opportunity for working with learners from different curriculum areas and young children. Furthermore, the WP has inspired students to pursue studies in ecology and conservation.
Students have assisted in successful applications for grants totalling £12,500. External recognition has come in the form of educational and environmental awards, and the development of a green accessible space for education has helped build relationships with local schools and community. The WP has had an impact on other students, with other curriculum areas including carpentry and joinery, engineering, photography and art utilising it for learning opportunities.
The WP has empowered students to become more proficient, confident and self-directed learners and the development of an outdoor classroom has become a sustainable asset to the College.
SERC was shortlisted for the Edge Award for Practical Teaching and Practical Learning in the AoC Beacon Awards 2016/17. Find out more about the awards.