Queen's University Open Learning

Read with the Blackbird Bookclub and celebrate contemporary Northern Irish work at Queen's

With courses on everything from poetry to piracy the Queen’s University Open Learning programme for autumn continues the tradition of having something for everyone. And this year, in addition to perennial favourites like Conversation Irish (Level 4) and Socio-Linguistics, there are two new strands in visual art and literature.

The Blackbird Bookclub and Celebrating Contemporary Northern Irish Art are two courses created in partnership with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Bookshop at Queens, the Seamus Heaney Centre and the new Crescent Arts Centre. Dr Tess Maginness, senior teaching fellow and Open Learning co-ordinator at Queen’s School of Education, say they are designed to create ‘a platform for living writers and artists to be able to talk about their work'.

Both courses combine workshops and gallery tours with guest talks by those living artists Maginness mentioned, such as Glenn Patterson, Ian Sansom, Sinead Morrissey, Rita Duffy, Paddy McCann and Polly Devlin.

‘The whole point of this is that we all know we have brilliant people here, but we’re not always good enough at actually celebrating and showcasing the work they do,; adds Maginness. 'Actually getting them connected up to people in an informal workshop situation will hopefully deepen appreciation of the great treasures we do have and open the work of these artists to lots of people.’

The Blackbird Club will be held on Monday mornings, from 11-1pm, at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. The first lecture is an overview of Contemporary Literature by Dr Maginness and the first reading will be by Polly Devlin.

Celebrating Contemporary North Irish Art is in the Crescent Arts Centre from 2-3pm on Wednesday afternoons. It starts with a lecture on Artists, Curators and Administrators and the first gallery visit is to the Naughton Gallery at Queens.

‘There’s still a lot of mystique around contemporary art,’ Maginness explains, adding the course hopes to answer such questions as, ‘What is it?’ and ‘What does art mean in the early 21st Century?’

You don’t have to have any ologies to attend the courses and Maginness stresses that the most important thing is that people enjoy the classes. ‘It’s all about education that follows the aim of what I think Phillip Sydney said about poetry, that it was to 'delight and instruct'. A lot of people say to us that they really enjoy the learning experience. It’s very different from the experiences they had at school where the learning was sort of forced into them.’

Canadian-born George Bain was vice-chancellor of Queen’s University until 2004 and has done a number of Open Learning courses since his retirement. He praises the ‘informal learning style’ and how they allow you to build up expertise.

‘The classes are very well-conceived and the teaching is excellent,’ Bain says cheerfully. ‘I don’t because I have enough qualifications, but if you want you can get credits towards a degree.’

Robert Whan was a student on the Open Learning programme and is now a tutor. 'I attended Open Learning courses throughout my student days at Queen’s and I was able to graduate with a Certificate in Liberal Studies in addition to my B.A. degree. The tutors were all very knowledgeable in their subject areas and approachable too. There was a great rapport between tutors and students and a sense of learning together. I am still in contact with some of my fellow students almost ten years later.'

The Open Learning prospectus is online. Even if you aren’t interested in literature or visual arts there are a range of other classes available, ranging from the academic to the practical. You can learn about inheritance tax in Personal Finance or about the history of bacterial diseases in Ireland in History and Politics. You can Change the World in Song in Music or De-Clutter your Life in Personal Development.

Or you can do poetry and piracy together and audition for the Pirates of Caribbean.

Sign up for classes on the Open Learning website or telephone on 028 9097 3323 / 3539.

Tammy Moore