Distance learning Higher Diploma in Education (HDip)

Name: Patrice Arrigan

Age: 33

Primary degree: BSc Physiotherapy, University College Dublin (2000)

Postgraduate degrees: MA Physiotherapy, UCD (2004); Distance learning HDip, Hibernia College (2011)

I originally trained as a physiotherapist and worked in a hospital in Dublin. The decision to undertake a postgraduate teaching course stemmed from my love of teaching: while studying for my MA at UCD I worked as a tutor and lecturer, and after a spell working overseas a career in teaching felt like the right move.

I chose the Hibernia College distance learning higher diploma (Hdip) because of the flexibility it afforded me: I'd just got married and bought a house and I wanted to stay working. Because my Hdip was an online course, I was able to carry on working full time as a physiotherapist simultaneously. It also meant that I could have a baby without giving up on the course. (I became pregnant with my first child just before I began studying, and with my second mid-way through.)

The course material was covered both online and in 'on-sites' – mainly in Cork. The online component of the course involved the release of lecture material in written and audio form on a weekly basis – around three to six pieces per week – which we had to read in preparation for the online tutorials. I often had to read additional material as well. The online tutorials themselves mainly consisted of discussions on the set texts. As a new mum, this really worked for me: one of the beauties of online distance learning was that I could take care of my baby and attend lectures at the same time.

On-sites were our chance to have face-to-face time with our tutors and catch up with others on the course (the class was around 22 strong). These mostly took place at the weekends; sometimes we would meet up once a week, or else once a month on a Saturday. I possibly could have benefited from a bit more face-to-face contact time, but the support we had from the tutors was great.

There were many assignments spread throughout the course, and fourteen weeks – split up into three blocks – of intensive teaching practice in schools. Putting your study into practice in the classroom is where you learn the most about your teaching style and methods.

Across a full academic year we were continuously assessed, and the course culminated in four exams. As part of the course we also spent three weeks in the Gaeltacht, with the primary aim of bringing our Irish language teaching up to scratch.

The experience turned out to be much harder than I expected. It was an incredibly intensive period; juggling full-time work, pregnancy, motherhood and study all at once is tough! It really brought home the meaning of multitasking and time management. As a result of so many commitments I became much more efficient at studying, and that year has stood to me for a career which demands a lot of preparation work before and after the school bell.