On Monday 19th May, a class of transition year history students from St. Mary’s Secondary School, Mallow, visited Fota House for a tour that sought to merge heritage with educational technology.
Originally built as a hunting lodge for the Earls of Barrymore, the house was extensively remodelled in the 1820s by John Smith Barry. This Regency mansion is a fine example of 18th and 19th century Irish craftsmanship. Its final occupant, Ms. Dorothy Bell, died in 1975. The house is now under the ownership of the Irish Heritage Trust. They have invested heavily in its restoration and conservation.
The students from St. Mary’s were warmly welcomed by Fota House staff upon arrival. After an ice-breaking activity, they were broken into groups and given a set of mobile phones. During the tour, students were encouraged to take photographs of unusual or fascinating artefacts as well as note interesting facts. Uniquely, they were allowed to touch various sensory items such as kitchen implements and nursery toys. The inquisitive girls from Mallow kept the tour guides on their toes with plenty of intelligent questions. Luckily, the weather was fine, allowing the guides to include the beautiful and well cared for arboretum in the tour. Other highlights of the tour included the servants’ quarters, the nursery and the dining room.
Following a spot of lunch in the café, the students were returned to their groups. The task of each group was to make a film, featuring the unique selling points of Fota House. The groups were given time to brainstorm ideas before being allowed to roam the house and make video clips using the mobile phones. Armed with photos, video clips and ideas galore, the groups then based themselves in the drawing room where they were given laptops. Using Windows Movie Maker, they then made the films. Their teachers, Mr. O’Connor and Ms. Flanagan acted as mentors, helping the girls with the movie making process. Finally, the films were presented. Although no budding Spielbergs were discovered, the process was fun and highly educational.
Activities for the day were designed by Dr. Danielle O’Donovan, a Trinity College researcher, who works with the Irish Heritage Trust as part of the Bridge 21 project. The purpose of the Bridge 21 project is to trial models of team based learning. Integral to the project is the use of technology. It is hoped that the Bridge 21 approach will encourage history teachers to engage their students more frequently with heritage sites such as Fota House.