The idea of an eLearning Summer School for academic staff was first mooted at the Dublin Institute of Technology early in 2003. At the time, DIT was attempting to ramp up its use of technology in the classroom as part of its strategic plan, aiming to encourage 50% of programmes to utilise the virtual learning environment. A familiar complaint during the academic year from staff was that they could not find the time to attend any sessions which were being offered by the (then) learning technology team. So we thought of offering a week-long bootcamp-type event once classes and exams boards were completed at the end of June.
We were told that it would never work. But happily it did. In that first year, over 50 academics attended the combination of workshops and reflective sessions “aimed at DIT staff interested in both the theory and practice of e-learning and those who are beginning to address the issues involved”. Some of the themes addressed that year included intellectual property and copyright, alternate approaches to learning (courtesy of a speaker from Media Lab Europe), the cultural impact of technology (Karlin Lillington of the Irish Times), and accessibility and disabled students. Feedback was hugely positive, and it was clear that the summer school was going to be more than a one-off event.
Since that time, the last week of June has been marked in the calendar, and the eLearning Summer School has attracted delegates not just from within DIT but from the wider Dublin area, from across Ireland and from abroad. Speakers over the years have come from the third-level sector in Ireland on both sides of the border, from business and industry, addressing themes ranging from distance education to games to more general critiques of technology. The balance kept between hands-on workshops and more reflective sessions proved to be a hit, and to ensure that delegates got the most from the week a decision was made to keep numbers at 50 or less. Feedback continued to be positive, and each year we built on the suggestions made to ensure that the event could grow in a manner that is useful to attendees, while also being an enjoyable week to attend. In fact, the eLearning Summer School has a coterie of regular attendees, not all of them from with DIT.
The advent of the Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance (DRHEA) and, under its Enhancement of Learning strand, the establishment of an eLearning Network of Excellence, pointed towards a Dublin eLearning Summer School in 2010. That year’s success demonstrated that the idea of a summer school has a much wider appeal across the Dublin colleges. We believe that the summer school is not only unique but a model that will be replicated not just in Ireland but internationally: to that end we are actively holding it up as a model of best practice at conferences and in publications. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas on how this and other events can promote Dublin as a region of excellence in education in Ireland and around the world.