Building on its reputation as a leading provider of energy design focussed upskilling, the Dublin School of Architecture, DIT Bolton Street was invited to join a Horizon 2020 research project called ‘Meeting of Energy professional Skills’ (MEnS) in 2015. DIT is one of 10 universities across the EU participating in this project, the aim of which is to upskill 1800 architects and building managers and contribute to the creation of a European Nearly Zero Energy Building (NZEB) professional network. Central to the MEnS project is the ‘Professional Energy Skills in NZEB’ module which has enabled DIT to upskill 120 building design professionals in three cohorts of 40 throughout 2016.
To mark the formal conclusion of the project a special ceremony took place in DIT Grangegorman in February 2017 with over 50 of the 105 successful graduates being presented with their award certificate. Keynote speakers RIAI President Carole Pollard and SEAI CEO Jim Gannon spoke of the challenges and opportunities presented by the NZEB project, and of the importance of upskilling and the need for flexible modes of learning including online delivery.
NZEB is the energy performance standard required under the European Union Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD). This Directive requires that all new buildings owned and occupied by the public sector must meet the NZEB standard from the end of 2018 onwards. It also requires that ALL new buildings must meet the NZEB standard from the end of 2020 onwards. The Directive also provides for the deep renovation of existing buildings to the NZEB standard beyond 2020. Achieving the NZEB standard will be an enormous challenge for designers and builders alike. It will require a culture change at all levels in the building industry, from procurement, to design, to construction, and into the use and maintenance of the building over its life cycle. All of this will require industry education and upskilling on an unprecedented scale across the EU, with the extent of the knowledge gap within the disciplines of the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sector not yet properly appreciated.
Recognising the scale of this emerging upskilling challenge the DIT School of Architecture lecturing team has developed new skills and teaching methods over the past five years, offering a range of new technology programmes including the Postgraduate Certificate in Digital Analysis & Energy Retrofit which was developed with the aim of upskilling unemployed building design professionals in a range of low energy technologies and computer applications. The programme ran for four consecutive years from 2011 but was suspended in 2015 following the return of full employment in the building design sector and as busy working professionals were not able to engage in programmes offered in traditional face-to-face mode. From this it was clear to the School that any programme seeking an industry market must embrace digital technologies, flexible modes of delivery and new models of learning and teaching.
In an exciting and significant development for the School of Architecture, the Professional Energy Skills in NZEB module was delivered in blended online learning mode. This combined a limited number of college-based face-to-face workshops, with a range of interactive and dynamic online learning experiences including pre-recorded lectures, online learning communities, group-focussed formative exercises and weekly feedback webinars. This blended learning approach enables busy working professionals to engage in a fluid and self-managed way, engaging in learning from a variety of disparate locations at times which suits individual needs, with all lectures, webinars and learning materials accessible on a smartphone.
The module was offered free of charge under the terms of the H2020 funding agreement and was advertised through a variety of networks, centrally the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) eBulletin newsletter. Over 300 applications were received for 120 available places. Selection was based on criteria laid down in the MEnS Grant Agreement, with 50% of places prioritised for women, and all places offered on a ranking based on a combination of academic qualifications and professional experience. While the free-fee was certainly an incentive to attract applicants, the high level of interest ultimately reflected the fact that the module was offered in flexible blended online mode and was accessible to busy working professionals throughout the Dublin region, those working at distance and in geographical isolation, and even some students from a number of locations in the United Kingdom.
The online learning model and mode of delivery has been extended to other programmes in the School and will be a central feature of the renamed and restructured MSc in Building Performance (Energy Efficiency in Design) which will commence in September 2017 (subject to validation).