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Technology

Technology Integration in Environmental Education

Traditional Views

 

When discussing the integration of technology into EE, traditionally, many environmental educators would stand opposed to the idea. This is because environmental educators have historically viewed ‘nature’ as a sacred, peaceful, and pure, place that people can access to escape the hustle and bustle of modern society (Anderson et al., 2015). In this view of EE, nature is seen as an entity that is entirely separate from the human built world. As such, following this logic, many environmental educators believe that technology has no place in nature. 

Contributing to this antagonism, traditional Western views link modern societal structures and progressive, technologically-driven developments to increases in alienation from wild nature, specifically citing cyberspace, virtual reality, and online environments, as prime contributors to our divided worlds (Omoogun et al., 2016). Meaning that technology is often blamed for the diminishing relationship between today’s youth and nature. This worldview has led to the general misconception among educators and parents alike, that children must ‘unplug’ from technology in order to successfully achieve a meaningful relationship with, and experience in, the natural environment (Anderson et al., 2015; Louv, 2008; Omoogun et al., 2016). 

 

Contemporary Views

 

However, as we now know, this is simply not the case. Educators are coming to realize that the problem isn’t with technology, they’re just tools, rather, it’s how we use and integrate technology into our lives and into educational environments that matters (Louv, 2008). In reality, technology use is only growing. People spend a lot of time using mobile devices, laptops, video games, and other tech, and have come to rely on it in their daily lives. As educators, we should not fight this shift, instead, we must "embrace the educational potential of technological tools and develop a method of integration that does not detract from the natural experience", or from environmental education as a whole (Kacoroski, 2015, p. 35). 

This acceptance and integration of technology is being called for by today’s youth (Bonora et al., 2019; Kacoroski et al., 2016; Hechter & Vermette, 2013; McGonigal, 2011). You may have heard the term digital natives, screenagers, or something similar, and while not all children are technologically literate, many come to us, to educators, already deeply immersed in the world of technology. The younger generations who are currently in school have different ways of expressing themselves to past generations, as well as different learning preferences because of their profound relationship with interactive, multimodal, information and communication technologies (Bonora et al., 2019). Their educational preferences are characterized by multitasking, visual media, activity/project-based learning, and technology-infused learning environments. As a result, they are less motivated to work in environments that lack these characteristics (Bonora et al., 2019). So, simply put, students are already engaged with technology; educators should use that interest to foster outdoor learning experiences that promote environmental values and teach environmental literacy.  "If fully educating our children means accepting possibilities for teaching that are not as conventional, but present the information through a means that better connect with our children, shouldn’t we at least give it a shot" (Kacoroski, 2015, p. 35)?

 

How-To

 

Practically speaking, how does one integrate technology into EE? Well, there are many well documented examples (see reference list) of the successful integration of technology into EE that we can learn from. Below, I have compiled a list of how-to tips to help you:

 

Technology & Tools for EE

 

  • Mobile devices such as phones, tablets, and iPads

    • Tablets and phones, which are essentially mobile computers, support collaborative learning activities in the outdoors, and are becoming commonplace devices. They exhibit a usefulness and diversity that is simply not found in other teaching tools, and as such they are promising tools for environmental education.

    • These devices can be used to write notes, take photos, record video/audio files, share information, collaborate and communicate with students and educators, consume educational content and news, produce content, find and mark locations on digital maps, and so much more. 

    • Additionally, they come with numerous apps that are very useful in EE contexts!

  • Computers and Laptops

    • Similarly to mobile devices, computers and laptops have a diverse range of uses in EE. They can be used as both learning and teaching tools. Computers allow us to access information, create and edit presentations, as well as other digital media such as websites, social media posts, infographics, videos, podcasts, etc. 

    • Computers can also be used by educators to support their lessons both during instruction and assessment. 

  • Computer, Mobile, and Video Games

    • Computer and video games engage students in ways current educational models do not, and as there are many games designed to teach environmental concepts, they are becoming increasingly useful tools in EE.  

  • Audio/Visual Devices

    • Devices such as audio recorders, speakers, cameras, televisions, projectors, and videography equipment should not be overlooked in EE. They are incredibly useful for both capturing content and presenting it. Whether you are listening to the recording of a bird call to help you identify a species, or making the actual recording, you are using technology as a tool to aid you!

  • Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Experiences

    • VR, AR, and VE platforms allow students to engage in nature experiences without having physical access to nature. Your students can see the world and explore nature from the classroom. 

  • Location-Based Tools

    • Radio Telemetry, GPS, and GIS equipment, can be used as effective teaching tools with a little practice and research. Whether tracking the movement of animals, mapping out the route for a hike, or capturing spatial data, specialized tools such as these have niche, yet useful applications in the EE classroom. 

  • Microscopes, Telescopes, and Binoculars

    • Visual enhancement tools such as these allow students to get up close and personal to the environment and explore it from a fun and novel perspective.

  • Thermometer, Hydrometers, and Barometers

    • Tools like thermometers, hydrometers, and barometers allow students to investigate the world around them and enhance their confidence as scientists.

Best Practices When Integrating Technology into EE

 

Integrating technology can be intimidating for many environmental educators as the idea is somewhat novel. However, there are many practices that can ease the transition. Let’s explore a few:

  • At first, keep technology-use simple. Allot time to ensure student and staff confidence in the use of devices, and provide students with instructions on behavioral expectations regarding the technology. 

  • Children have an intrinsic awe of nature that can be tapped into using technology combined with hands-on experiences. Send students outside with mobile devices to take field notes, or have them consolidate their outdoor experience using technology in the classroom. 

  • Students are more engaged, intrinsically motivated to learn, and more successful when they can connect what they are learning to situations they care about in their community and in the world. Technology can provide access to real-time data, simulations to situate learning in the real world, and opportunities for students to link learning to their personal interests. Use this in your teaching practice!

  • Provide students with technology-infused educational experiences that involve multitasking, visual media, and activity/project-based learning. These are in demand by modern students.

  • When engaging in outdoor education, use technology as a tool to amplify and extend the senses of your students. 

  • Technology helps facilitate a blended learning model and makes transitions from inside to outside (or vice versa) as easy as pie, because it can come with you everywhere you go! Plan for this in your lessons. 

  • Technological devices such as geographical referencing and location-based tools support outdoor activities and site-specific learning through mapping, data collection applications, and more! Incorporate this type of technology into your outdoor lessons.

  • Consider creating a school-wide technology plan that encompasses a shared vision and understanding regarding technology use in your institution. This way, everyone is on the same page. 

  • On an administrative level, and when considering topics for professional development, it is important to acknowledge that teachers need access to educational opportunities that are appropriate for their needs regarding technology-use and their classroom practice. These opportunities should allow them to engage in active learning, and focus on the acquisition of technological skills and knowledge, as well as technology-related classroom management.

  • In terms of school climate,  teachers must be able to experiment with technology without fear of failure and its repercussions. Not everything works on the first try, and that’s okay! Be sure to have a growth mindset when implementing new technology in your practice.

  • Finally, use what you already know! Use technology for the same paper-pencil tasks you have always done, just in a new, up-to-date, and unconventional way! Instead of a character poster, make a character social media account. Instead of a written journal, record video journals. And so on!

References

Anderson, C. L., Miller, B. M., Eitel, K. B., Veletsianos, G., Eitel, J. U. H., & Hougham, R. J. (2015). Exploring Techniques for Integrating Mobile Technology into

     Field-Based Environmental Education. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 19(6), 1-19.

Bitner, N., & Bitner, J. (2002). Integrating Technology into the Classroom: Eight Keys to Success. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 10(1), 95-100.

Bleck, S., Bullinger, M., Lude, A., & Schaal, S. (2012). Electronic mobile devices in environmental education (EE) and education for sustainable development (ESD)

     Evaluation of concepts and potentials. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 46, 1232-1236.

Bonora, L., Martelli, F., & Marchi, V. (2019).  DIGITgame: gamification as amazing way to learn STEM concepts developing sustainable cities idea in the citizen of

     the future. Journal of Strategic Innovation and Sustainability, 14(4), 10-19.

Brooks-Young, S. (2010). Teaching with the tools kids really use: learning with Web and mobile technologies. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Brush, T., & Foon Hew, K. (2007). Integrating technology into K-12 teaching and learning: current knowledge gaps and recommendations for future research.

     Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(3), 223-252.

Crawford, M. R., Holder, M. D., & O'Connor, B. P. (2016). Using Mobile Technology to Engage Children with Nature. Environment and Behavior, 49(9), 959-984.

Ferrie, C. (2009). Exploring Nature in Cyberspace. PERCReport, 27(3), 16-19.

George, A., & Archontia, M. (2013). Educational Technology as a Teaching and Learning Tool in Environmental Education. International Journal of Academic

     Research in Business and Social Sciences, 3(9), 191-205.

Graham, R. (2006). Techno-Resiliency in Education: A New Approach For Understanding Technology in Education. Cham: Springer.

Hechter, R. P., & Vermette, L. A. (2013). Technology integration in K-12 science classrooms: An analysis of barriers and implications. Themes in Science &

     Technology Education, 6(2), 73-90.

Holloway, P., & Mahan, C. (2012). Enhance nature exploration with technology. Science Scope, 35(9), 23-28.

Kacoroski, J. (2015). Time for Change: A New Frontier for Digital Nature Experiences. Parks & Recreation, 34-35.

Kacoroski, J., Liddicoat, K.R., & Kerlin, S. (2016). Children's use of iPads in outdoor environmental education programs. Applied Environmental Education &

     Communication, 15(4), 301-311.

Kamarainen, A. M., Metcalf, S., Grotzer, T., Browne, A., Mazzuca, D., Tutwiler, M. S., & Dede, C. (2013). EcoMOBILE: Integrating augmented reality and probeware

     with environmental education field trips. Computers & Education, 68, 545-556.

Lai, C.H., Yang, J.C., Chen, F.C., Ho, C.W., & Chan, T.W. (2007). Affordances of mobile technologies for experiential learning: the interplay of technology and

     pedagogical practices. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23, 326-337.  

Looi, C.-K., Zhang, B., Chen, W., Seow, P., Chia, G., Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2010). mobile inquiry learning experience for primary science students: a study of

     learning effectiveness. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(3), 269-287.

Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Omoogun, A. C., Egbonyi, E. E., & Onnoghen, U. N. (2016). From Environmental Awareness to Environmental Responsibility: Towards a Stewardship Curriculum.

     Journal of Educational Issues, 2(2), 60-72.

Ruchter, M., Klar, B., & Geiger, W. (2010). Comparing the effects of mobile computers and traditional approaches in environmental education. Computers &

     Education, 54, 1054-1067.

Schneider, J., & Schaal, S. (2018). Location-based smartphone games in the context of environmental education and education for sustainable development:

     fostering connectedness to nature with Geogames. Environmental Education Research, 24(11), 1597-1610.

Woong Choi, G., Land, S. M., & Toomey Zimmerman, H. (2018). Investigating children's deep learning of the tree life cycle using mobile technologies.

     Computers in Human Behavior, 87, 470-479.

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