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Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 48: Digital Literacy in Environmental Education

October 19, 2014


As an outdoor educator in a school board that is very forward thinking when it comes to student success I have embraced the concept of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and technology. I feel any current educator (and likely student) today would agree with this assessment.

I’m finding myself in a shadowy age zone these days. I find I am old enough to regale my children with stories of phones that were permanently attached to a wall or having to get up and flip a dial on the television if uninterested in the show I was watching.  But I’m still young enough not too really miss those days and to crave the newest devices. I feel my past allows me to appreciate when such devices are helpful.

Having said that, I love it when I see an effort to move away from devices as well. Gary Turk’s spoken word poem Look Up is a perfect and a powerful example. If you have not taken the time to watch it. I recommend you do so now.

Recently, I’ve spoken at a number of workshops and conferences on the fine line of making use of technology to expand upon outdoor experience and crossing over into a loss of sensory awareness and missing out on the peripheral opportunities of time outdoors. I believe wholeheartedly that technology can enhance a visit to the outdoors as my first blog post ever Fishing & Reflections mentions.

I read this summer an article about restaurants keeping track of wait times and discovering over the years that wait times have increased dramatically due to patrons spending more time focusing on their screens than on the menu. Are we all that far away from restaurants having signs on their door selling the fact that they proudly are not wifi enhanced? What a great idea for those interested in face to face dialogue with the person across the table.

More and more at our nature centres we are seeing classes coming expecting BYOD programming and we’ve created some great initiatives from Augmented Reality, photography and even global collaborations. At our own Board run outdoor education centres we are sensitive to BYOD requests when we are made aware of them. It’s been both challenging and thrilling as we trek upon the steep incline up this mountain pass between digital literacy and experiential environmental education. Setting the foundation and protocol for its usage during our outdoor time is critical.

Again, do not get me wrong. I am a huge supporter of technology as a way of enhancing and sharing an outdoor learning moment. I love responding to class questions, seeing what is being done with Padlet, Haiku Deck, Minecraft and other education focused programs. But just as we are trying to incorporate  technology INTO the classroom and teaching digital literacy – perhaps we should also be sitting around the campfire, outdoor classroom or “no more zone” and discussing just when it is appropriate to use our devices outdoors as well.

Recently I have seen examples of digital literacy fit tidily into three key categories.

Digital Citizenship – this would be giving our students the skills to be able to use technology outdoors both responsibly and safely. In an outdoor setting this includes but also goes beyond classroom norms. It would include taking into account sensitivity of the environment for example. Is it in the best interest of the ecosystem to promote exactly where that photo of a species at risk was taken? If using your device to record water quality are you considering the impact upon spawning grounds as you ford the water? If publishing online are students aware of potentially sensitive issues or information they are thinking of sharing?

Technology Literacy – this would help our students know which practical tools are handy in environmental education situations. Leafsnap is a great tool, as long as you are within wifi range for instance. Augmented Reality can bring new life to outdoor lessons but due to shadows and changing seasons, sometimes a simple QR code is even better. Are they aware when roaming fees may be present? If students are faced with a technology challenge are they capable in finding a technological solution for that environmental condition?

Information Literacy – one of my main concerns is that all researchers, students or teachers alike seem too willing to accept a Google search or Wikipedia as a credible source. How are we helping our students understand that there are at least two sides to every environmental disaster for instance. Would citing an article from British Petroleum on the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill have the same information as the blog of a Louisianan fisherman personally impacted by the spill? Do students understand the political bias many mainstream and credible media agencies have? We do not need to make our students think what we think, but we must ensure they have the ability to research effectively.

Have that discussion with your students this week. When do they see value in using technology outdoors? And equally important, see if they are aware when the time is right to turn it off and get a broader, more personal experience.


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