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NOMAD – Developing an access based and outreach course

Since its inception, Nomad has sought to enable the Traveller community to access the University environment through music, song and dance and the expertise of the Irish World Academy. Nomad has spent many years building up working relationships with the Traveller communities and individuals through workshops, tuition, performances and the development of documentary and educational materials.  Through this ongoing relationship, the need for a Traveller accessible university accredited access course became apparent. Over the proceeding years, Nomad engaged in active research, community engagement and pilot studies in the development of what became the Certificate in Music and Dance.

At the heart of any Nomad undertaking is a deep respect for the culture of the Traveller community. We have come to understand through practical experience that the ties of family and community commitments can affect the ability of individuals to engage with a traditional University course schedule. Therefore, any proposed access course must be formed in such as way as to facilitate Traveller students to honour these commitments within an innovative and flexible study system.

The Certificate in Music and Dance was developed in consultation with Nomad tutors and students; pilot projects and bridging courses were delivered in order to gauge how best to deliver the academic and musical components of the course.  The main aims in choosing delivery modes was that the course content would remain intact and not omit or glance over the ‘challenging elements’ of the Certificate while also remaining flexible in its delivery schedule.

It was decided that a ‘blended learning’ delivery in partnership with regional Traveller training centres would satisfy the needs identified throughout the eight years that Nomad had been working with the community. This development offers new challenges to those interested in taking a step into an academic arena and to those of us offering the course.

Innovative, student centred, open-minded educational and shared learning experiences are all key elements in community music practice and the results speak for themselves. Sustainability of ‘outreach’ and access projects is imperative if they are to succeed in making notable impact socially, musically or educationally.  Understanding the mechanisms and processes by which such projects succeed is crucial to ongoing effectiveness. The need for a middle ground between academia and community work has been an ongoing theme in Nomad’s work – we recognise the importance of marrying theory and reality in a coherent, constructive, innovative and accessible manner.