Boyle: ‘We’re catching up – students are leading the way’

Irish agricultural students are comfortable using digital tools to help them excel in farming – and to an extent Teagasc and the education system is having to catch up with them, according to director of Teagasc Prof. Gerry Boyle.

Speaking on the latest episode of FarmLand, Prof. Boyle told presenter Claire Mc Cormack that students are “leading the way” on the digital front.

“Students are using digital tools to learn; they’re very comfortable learning through social media. We have to provide them with that opportunity.

“And to some extent we’re catching up with students; they’re leading the way. They’re using AgriLand for example; they’re using all the available digital tools.

“We’re trying to now incorporate that into the teaching programme,” Prof. Boyle said.

On a wider scale, the Teagasc director noted the speed at which technology is evolving.

“I guess the whole digital revolution is progressing at an extraordinary pace; not only within the classroom but outside the classroom – and the classroom has to be responsive.”

Commenting on the farm machinery simulator AgriLand saw in action in Kildalton, the professor noted that this is one of two owned by Teagasc colleges.

“We have a forage, forestry harvesting simulator at our college in Ballyhaise, which is even more sophisticated than the one in Kildalton.

But young people are really tuned in to the whole digital technology; I mean they’re avid users of all the digital tools and social media tools so there’s a kind of natural progression for them to take up the physical technologies that are also on offer.

“But we’ve had to revamp our educational programme the last couple of years looking to the future in terms of requirements and it’s not only the digital dimension of that, although that’s a very important component in terms of how we teach.”

The director noted that agricultural, forestry, horticultural and equine students love the practical application of their learning but are less comfortable inside the classroom.

“We’ve had to rethink our whole way of teaching programmes and the balance between what students learn in the classroom and what they learn outside.

Students love to be able to apply their learning so I think the simulators that we have are really, really popular with students for that reason. We’ve adopted what we call now a problem-based learning approach.

“Where with the digital age students can learn independently far more but they need to have a focus for their learning and that’s hence the emphasis on problem-based learning.

“We borrowed a lot from thinking in Europe in that respect.

“I would say over the next few years, the major change actually – it may not be visible externally – will be the whole approach to learning, with the emphasis very much on students applying knowledge to practical farming situations,” Prof. Boyle concluded.