International conference on Outdoor Education marks 20th anniverary of Mayo campus course

Conference aims to establish national Outdoor Education group to influence policy and sustainable development


Press Office

Date Article Written: 

Monday, April 11, 2016

To celebrate twenty 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, 22 April (9am – 5.30pm).

The conference brings together outdoor professionals from public and private organisations including Irish third-level colleges and Education and Training Boards (ETBs), 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 recreating out of doors, looking at the benefits to positive mental health and physical health benefits 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 fifty 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.”

Stephen notes that the conference aims to bring together all those using the outdoors as a venue for education, recreation or therapy with a view to forming an Irish Association for Outdoor Learning. It is envisaged that such an organisation could help highlight the potential benefits of learning outdoors and be a vehicle for influencing policy and sustainable development. The CEO of the Institute of Outdoor Learning in the UK, Andy Robinson, will attend the GMIT Mayo conference to advise on this development.

Co-ordinator of the BA in Outdoor Education, Orla Prendergast, says “Our graduates have gone on to establish successful careers in the past twenty years in a variety of areas, five of whom will be speaking at the event. Two of these presenters have become lecturers, one is working for Outward Bound Hong Kong, one is working for the Youth Services and another is a successful entrepreneur”.

Over the last twenty years the BA in Outdoor Education has continued to adapt to the changing environment for those wishing to work professionally as Outdoor Educators.  If interested in becoming qualified to work in this area, see:


GMIT Outdoor Education students rock-climbing on a recent trip to Spain

GMIT Outdoor Education students rock-climbing on a recent trip to Spain

GMIT Outdoor Education students rock-climbing on a recent trip to Spain