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Online summer camp provides blueprint for the future of online learning

Adapting to survive the pandemic has helped one Irish business to evolve

The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to become innovative and creative: instead of bringing the students to us, the courses would go to them

 

For children and teenagers the experience of lockdown has been much tougher than many expected. While the school closures might initially have seemed fun, as lockdown dragged on and society stood still, so did growing up. The coming-of-age milestones were not getting any closer.

Lockdown held a mirror up to the day-to-day rituals of school that they no longer had. It was not what they learned in class that they missed, it was each other. Social interaction is how we learn about ourselves and about each other. It is where we learn how to think on our feet, how to react and survive, how to be in the world. 

Challenge

Like so many companies, lockdown stopped work abruptly. Usually, our Creative Arts Summer Camps at IADT, Dun Laoghaire and LSAD, Limerick attract more than a thousand students, but this summer, of course, was different. There was uncertainty on deciding to run online courses - our brand was reputable for its high-standards and loyal customer base, what would happen if online courses failed? It would have to feel like more than an online lesson, they'd have to succeed where others in education had not.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to become innovative and creative: instead of bringing the students to us, the courses would go to them, the equipment and materials would be sent directly to people’s homes and the workshops would run on Zoom. Although a great idea in theory, the risk arose, would it work in reality? 

Many parents felt that online teaching had been a disaster that didn't engage students. How would an online course keep students engaged for four hours daily on a tablet or laptop? Teachers and parents alike had expressed their frustrations with teaching online, and it was no doubt an unprecedented challenge, we had to rectify this immediately. If the teaching failed, the business failed.

Sales went well, with exhausted parents, whose children had attended the camp before, booking their children in

The Zoom experience is also a new obstacle that business owners, employees and students of all ages had to overcome during the pandemic. My own experience of Friday night Zoom calls with friends did not bode well for the business - we were exhausted after an hour. To counteract Zoom fatigue, we set up the online member’s area for our students and provided a year of free creative arts tutorials. 

Sales went well, with exhausted parents, whose children had attended the camp prior to Covid-19, booking their children in. 

Small business owners will understand: there's always something to do, many sleepless nights, and the clients are the number one priority, always. Before the week of summer camp, we sent out the packages, which were quite something, like a Christmas Eve delivery in the height of summer. In some ways they almost felt like an apology in advance. There is little worse than having the expectations of children, teenagers  and their parents on your shoulders.

Overcoming

However, there is nothing better than meeting those expectations.The response was incredible. I read the emails to my wife, Síle, and she got emotional. So did I. We had poured our hearts and souls into something everybody told us we couldn’t do.

Sinéad, Dublin: 

" [My son] said it was the best camp he has ever been on. You all played a blinder!’ 

Jennifer, Tipperary: 

"Hearing the kids say goodbye to their new friends at the end of the week was really, well, inspiring (and just a little emotional!)."

Amy, Dublin: 

"You knocked it out of the park guys. Thank you so, so, so much!"

There were times when the fear of failure made me wish I hadn’t started the whole thing. I just wanted it all to be over. Ultimately, we did it, because we told ourselves that anything is possible. We did it because we learn as much from children as they do from us. We did it because children and young people are amazing. We did it, we did it, we did it, and we are doing it again this August.

For more information, visit www.inspireland.ie