To celebrate 20 years of the Outdoor Education Programme, GMIT Mayo is holding an international conference titled “Learning Outdoors in Ireland – Looking to the Future’ in St Mary’s Hall on campus, Castlebar, on Friday April 22.
The conference brings together outdoor professionals from public and private organisations including Irish third-level colleges and education and training boards, the youth, probation and care sector in Ireland, adventure tourism, and international outdoor organisations such as Outward Bound in the US and Hong Kong. Speakers will look at current and new approaches to teaching and learning in the outdoors and at exciting and innovative projects such as forests schools, place-based learning, dark skies, and garden therapy.
The conference will be opened and addressed by Dr Deirdre Garvey, head of GMIT Mayo campus, and Dr Richard Thorn, former head of GMIT Mayo Campus and former president of IT Sligo, who will act as master of ceremonies for the day. The conference will begin with a talk by GMIT lecturer Stephen Hannon who will look back over 50 years of outdoor education in Ireland.
Keynote speakers include Dr Kaye Richards, Liverpool John Moores University, who will speak on the topic “Adventure Therapy: Connecting the outdoors and therapy for health and well-being” and Dr Andrew Bobilya of Western Carolina University, whose talk is titled “Let our Students Go: Autonomous student experiences in outdoor education.”
Three sessions will run concurrently in the afternoon on the themes of therapeutic applications of the outdoors, education in the outdoors, and adventure tourism. The programme is very broad and touches on many issues that are important in today’s society such as getting children playing out of doors, looking at the benefits to positive mental health and physical health of time spent outdoors, and finally the huge potential that Galway and Mayo offer in terms of mountains, lakes, the Greenway and beaches.
Stephen Hannon, GMIT lecturer and conference co-ordinator, says: “Outdoor education within the school system in Ireland can be traced back to Dr Anton Trant’s innovative work in Dublin schools 50 years ago. This conference offers us an opportunity to look back at the way outdoor learning has developed since then and to showcase new exciting projects and to consider how the field might develop in years to come.”
“The outdoors is now being used in diverse ways for learning, therapy, and recreation. The increasing research evidence shows the therapeutic benefits of the outdoors and nature for wellbeing and there is a growing enthusiasm for using the outdoor classroom as a powerful and unique medium for learning and development.”