It’s fair to say that Which Course Virtual Week is a first for Ireland. Online education events have grown in popularity across the United States and Asia, and they are catching on across the rest of the world. Beth Rees of Careers Unlimited explains the how and why of Which Course Virtual Week.
What’s the difference between Which Course Virtual Week and a traditional education fair?
Obviously the big difference is that the Which Course Virtual Week takes place online. However, other than that, it is very similar indeed. The platform has been designed to look like a traditional education expo. In exactly the same way as a physical exhibition, colleges and course providers have booths and staff on-hand. Students can visit the booths to collect information, such as prospectuses and brochures. They can also speak to student recruitment officers, liaise with professional bodies and submit applications. There’s video, text and voice chat facilities, so attendees can choose the option that suits them best.
What are the advantages of an online event?
Time and money! Educational fairs tend to be held in big cities. In Ireland they are almost always in Dublin. This means that every single person outside of the capital has to travel to take part. There’s the cost of transport, and some people may need to take time off work too. It’s not practical for prospective students living abroad to travel to educational fairs either.
Careers Unlimited has run the very successful Which Course event at the RDS since 2007 so it is something we have been aware of for a while. Educational fairs, virtual or traditional, are a fantastic resource for anyone thinking of going to college or returning to education. We wanted to do something that was not only innovative, but that would democratise the process. Anyone considering doing a course in Ireland can take part wherever they are. It doesn’t matter if you are in Athlone or Atlanta, at home, in the office or outside – as long as you have an internet connection you can take part.
Are there any pros for colleges and course providers?
Again, the big gains are time and money. There is no need for college staff to travel or pay for hotels. Colleges don’t need exhibition backdrops, posters, or printed prospectuses. They have a range of digital tools to share information with students and they can include marketing materials such as videos too. As well as video, text and voice chat facilities, course providers can hold webinars, or virtual seminars, to address large numbers of prospective students during Which Course Virtual Week.
What about the human touch? Isn’t it missing with something like this?
That’s a good question! The thing to remember is that although you are meeting in a virtual space, you are speaking to a human being in real time. It’s not like getting stuck in a voicemail loop and desperately hoping to talk to an operator. It is very interactive. Think of it as a combination of Google and Skype. You can search for information beforehand, just like Google, and then have a back-and-forth video or text conversation with somebody who is online and engaged in speaking to you.
That sounds like a format that would appeal to younger people.
Definitely! Although I would argue that most of us in Ireland are comfortable with technology. People born in the 1980s and beyond are regarded as digital natives – that is they grew up with digital technology so an online event like Which Course Virtual Week doesn’t feel foreign for them. A 2014 survey found that nearly 60 percent of Irish adults shop online at least once a month; two-thirds of us say that the internet helps us feel more connected to friends and family; and a whooping eight in ten Irish adults use a smartphone, tablet or laptop while watching television. I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of us use technology all the time.
How does the platform itself work?
All you need is a computer, a tablet or a smartphone with an internet connection. You don’t need to download or install anything. Once you’ve registered to take part, you can start collecting information. Attendees are given a virtual bag – similar to a virtual briefcase where they can store information like prospectuses or application forms from colleges – so that they can compare what’s available. They can speak to colleges over Which Course Virtual Week and they can even enrol in a course through the platform itself. It is very convenient and easy to use.
Is Which Course Virtual Week only for prospective college students?
Not at all! There will be all kinds of course providers taking part. We wanted to make the event as broad as possible. Whether an attendee is looking for an undergraduate degree, a post-graduate degree or a part-time or evening course, we have it covered. There are also plenty of short courses for people who want to improve skills in a particular area, or are just interested in learning a hobby.
Do you have any advice for attendees?
There are a couple of things I would recommend. First off, sign up as soon as possible and gather all the information you need and whittle it down so that you speak to the relevant colleges that run the courses that you are interested in! Also write down a list of what questions you want answered, and you can speak to the ones who best fit your needs.
Finally, keep a pen and paper handy to take notes during your appointment. You will almost certainly want to double-check this information at some point, so it’s better to have it. Some people have great memories, but I forget everything unless I write it down!