The Story of Intergenerational Learning at Atlantic Technological University Sligo

Marie Hanmore-Cawley and Kate Brown team teach a module in intergenerational learning (IGL) at the Atlantic Technological University (ATU), Sligo Ireland. Their professional relationship was forged through a shared understanding of the power of intergenerational work, and a drive to embed IG learning in the curriculum at all levels of education, from Early Years to Higher Education. Read their blogpost about their story and current work.

Marie worked for 40 years in second level education with young people aged 13-18 and achieved a PhD in IGL post-retirement. She co-ordinates the Atlantic Technological University older people’s group, with relationships established through her doctoral studies.
Kate’s experience is in Arts Education. She has delivered IGL arts projects and programmes through drama, film and storytelling, at all levels of education. She has been an advocate, facilitator and teacher of IGL for 15 years.

To date, 200 Social Care and Early Education and Care students have taken the module at ATU, which embraces Boyer’s Model of Scholarship (Renwick et al. 2020) and Lave and Wenger’s concept of Situated Learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

The students learn in a multigenerational space. Most of them are in their 20s, Kate is in her 40s, Marie is in her 70s, and some of the older people in the intergenerational group are in their 80s and 90s.

Our students not only get to work with the older people in the classroom, they also design and facilitate intergenerational projects in the community. Many of the ATU older people work with our Early Education and Care students on these projects going into primary school classrooms and early years settings with children under 8 and their teachers. Social Care students bring the intergenerational work to older people in care settings and community settings. Young children are then invited to attend.

Responsibility towards self and others with respect to wellbeing is timely in Ireland. At present, both Aistear, the early childhood curriculum framework and the primary school curriculum are being updated. New learning from the COVID pandemic is now being considered, specifically in wellbeing. Education policy and practice that takes note of intergenerational learning collaborations can actively connect people of all ages in lifelong learning while reciprocally enhancing wellbeing and promoting positive change. This approach is being embodied in ATU Sligo.

Following a break in 2021 when it was not possible to run the IGL Module, students and older people returned to campus this year. We wanted to celebrate this return, to herald that we are back post-Pandemic and celebrate 5 years of IGL collaborations at ATU. We marked the occasion by developing a programme of events for Global Intergenerational Week in April. This gave us a glimpse of what an Intergenerational Contact Zone might be (Kaplan et al. 2020).
We also initiated a new research project about intergenerational collaborations in higher education and how they might impact reciprocal learning experiences and the view of the ‘Age-Other’ (Biggs and Lowenstein, 2011).

There is a kind of alchemy that happens within the individual and the group when people come together with a shared purpose in the IGL space. Some of this magic we attempt to capture, identify and make visible through our research projects and through the events that happened on campus in April. Yet, the commitment, generosity and contribution of our intergenerational group over the past five years is immeasurable. So too the older people’s enhancement of student learning which extends beyond the walls of the university.

For more information about IGL in ATU, you can contact Kate Brown:

Click here to read Kate and Marie’s presentation about IGL and wellbeing, which they made at the (Online) International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) World Congress in Montreal in May 2022.