Webinar on Digital Technology and Outdoor Education - September 2021 Short Version
Let me introduce to you our main speakers, so, we have three speakers and a bonus speaker. Start off with Imre van Kraalingen, who is doing her PhD on the role and impact of mobile technology and technological mediation in higher education in Norway Imre is based in Oslo. Jack Reed's PhD is on the influences of networked spaces on experiences of residential outdoor education at the Outward Bound Trust in the UK Jack is based in Edinburgh. Dave Hills is based at the University of Sunshine Coast in Australia.
His PhD is on optimising the management of digital technology in outdoor education. I am super excited by having these three PhD students here, precisely, not only because they are lovely people and smart people, and have a lot to offer. But I always think that it is the PhD students out there who are most on top of the literature.
They are the ones most immersed in it, day after day, week after week, year after year. Hopefully not too many years. So, it is wonderful to be able to bring up this really current knowledge of the field. But we have also asked Brendon Munge from Australia to join us as what I would call an 'offsider'. So he's going to join us in the plenary. Brendon has a lot of experience with working with outdoor technology at the tertiary level especially. We have asked him a long to challenge some of the point being made by the presenters and maybe act as a sort of, we want him along with some of you others, to feel like you can be critical. You don't have
to believe everything that is being presented to you. And we want to be asking the difficult questions: sure, but how would that work in the real-world practice? So, Brendon will take on an additional role there. Right, just a couple of more bits of introduction, and we will be off to the races. Our working definition today for digital technologies is: 'electronic tools, systems and devices that can record, store, process and present information.'
electronic tools, systems and devices that can record, store, process and present information. We mean this to include all parts of the experience: before, going into the field, during and after the experience. It could be on expeditions, residential experiences, local learning outside the classroom and so on...
I'll also say that there has always been technology in outdoor education. And, Bob Henderson, years ago, said to me: 'Oh, there always has been technology in outdoor education, just look at the canoe. Its design was so good that it hasn't changed in a thousand years.' With the advent of digital technology, however, and the rapid rise and ubiquity of digital technology in our outdoor education practices, seemed to have raised all kinds of questions, dilemmas, conflicts, and so on, that occur here at the intersection of mobile technology use and working with people outdoors.
And it is the believe of the people who are presenting today and the organising group of this webinar, that there is a disproportionately low amount of rigorous research that has been done on these kinds of practices. So that is the rationale for this webinar, that's why we're here. We are here to generate some discussion around this intersection of outdoor learning and digital technology. We want to hear from you as well. I think I've said all that I should. It's eleven minutes past the hour, and let's get started. Any burning questions before we continue? I can't see everybody's hands, but maybe put it in the chat if you think: 'hang on, I have a burning question, you can't begin yet.'
Right, you've had your opportunity to ask a burning question. Okay! Let's kick this thing off! So jazzed that you're all here. We've got 68 people joining us live. This is our first statement that the three panellists are going to respond to. The use of digital technology in outdoor education is fundamentally contrary to all its key value. Hmm... Okay. Jack, you're on! Alright. Thank you very much, Simon. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening everybody.
Nice to see loads of familiar names and also some new names. Hi from Edinburgh! I should probably get started here, by asking: what are the key values in British Outdoor Education? That's the context I'm in here. I don't intend to spend too much time on this, but the values that underpin British outdoor and specifically adventure education can at least be traced back to the romantic period. But I think can also be traced back to the post Second World War area. And concentrates on adventure as a kind of medium for personal development and also personal growth. This is something that a colleague and I recently discussed in a small scale paper on fear in outdoor learning. But I think there's also value placed on
accessing natural places which disconnect us from what are faced-paced, and I think also technological lives. And we see this emphasized in writings such as Brian Wattchow's for instance 'pedagogy of production' and Payne and Wattchow's 'pedagogy for post-traditional outdoor education'. So, I think these five minutes are going to focus on this disconnection, and in some ways kind of focus on experiential purity. Yeah, I think in the next sort of 5 minutes or so. When thinking about the kind of removal of phones and subsequently social media in informal outdoor education at least, I think we could run into a problem when we think about just how connected young people are in contemporary society.
So, we know that young people, or at least the kind of generation Zs and generation As of global North societies, so that's those born from late 1990s through to the present day or so. Know nothing different in a world that is both technologically sustained and critically also technologically reliant. I think, whether it be Snapchat and TikTok or text messaging or WhatsApp, the young people who take part in outdoor education, are kind of part of a networked environment which facilitates and sustains aspects of young people's lives, particularly aspects such as community, friendship and also, critically, identity. And of course we also see relationship and community development as core program outcomes in outdoor education. So, it's the position of network spaces that they naturally become an integral part of learning outdoors. So, whilst young people might not necessarily be on their phones during formal activities such as caving or maybe rock climbing, they will undoubtedly be parts of these networks' back channels - before and after these formal learning experiences.
And I think crucially here, network spaces also offer opportunity for outdoor learning to continue long after the initial experience, so things such as sharing images, new friends, maybe even social media posts themselves can kind of provide a living archive which will be revisited by young people for years to come after their initial experience. This kind of creates a new arena I think in outdoor education for young people to make sense of these forms of experience. So me being onto my third and final point from a networked and connectivity perspective, which, of course, naturally includes mobile technology and social media, I, personally, I'm unconvinced that these forms of mobile technology are fundamentally contrary for outdoor education, and I believe that leveraging these spaces can potentially at least further the impact of meaningful and long-lived outcomes when taking learning beyond the classroom. So, in light of that, I think I would like to at least conclude with my own positionality statement, and that is that network spaces and connectivity play a critical role in and beyond outdoor education. So, as practitioners, we of course have a choice about whether we include technology in practice or not, but it's absolutely important that we recognize that all of our participants will arrive, take part, and leave these outdoor learning contexts as part of numerous online networks, which of course facilitates interpersonal connection, friendship, and critically, I think memories.
So, with that in mind, I'd like to pass back to Simon, who I think will pass on to Imre. Thank you very much. Thanks, Jack. Right on time. Let's see. There we go over to Imre. Thank you, and thank you Jack for kicking this off. As you can see on the slide, I'll be giving a perspective from the Norwegian context and I also would like to start with sharing some of the key values from the Norwegian context, as internationally there is no clear statement of what exactly the key values are in outdoor education.
So, similar to the context of the UK, outdoor education in Norway has its roots in a tradition, the Norwegian tradition of outdoor life, which is called 'friluftsliv' in Norwegian, and this also dates back to the romantic period and the back-to-nature movement where the friluftsliv tradition aimed to offer a break from the distresses from everyday urban life and to help reconnect the urban population to nature. So, these ideals continued to develop from exploring kind of what at that time was still considered 'wild nature' or 'free nature' and also relying on one's own personal skills to manage oneself in the outdoors with limited equipment and simple means. And until today, the traditional friluftsliv is still intertwined with also this idea that spending time out in nature is good for people's overall wellbeing. So physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and that holds a very strong position in Norway's public policy, but also in the educational policy. So, for a long time outdoor education in Norway has kind of reflected these original values of skill development and also personal development and the direct experience of nature. And I added an extra key value here that I think is important, which is the environmental awareness, which, as I understand it, developed a little bit later on, when the Norwegian eco-philosophical traditions emerged, that argued that experience of nature helps us develop a connection to nature and raise environmental awareness.
So, these are the key values in the Norwegian tradition of outdoor life and outdoor education in Norway. However, if we look at the practice today, we see more and more use of advanced equipment and people recording and sharing their outdoor pursuits with various digital and mobile technologies. And, increasingly, we see also that these technologies are used in the planning and the enactment of outdoor education curricula. So, as I understand it, these key values, when we look at them from a perspective of using digital technologies, it really depends on our approach whether we say that these technologies either hinder or can support the key values of outdoor education. For example, if we look at the first two, the skill development and social and personal development, one can say that from the traditional approach, managing oneself in the outdoors with simple means and limited equipment, the use of digital technologies would not fit in in that picture of developing the basic skills.
However, if we look from a pedagogical approach, there's a clear example of using, for example, 'how to' videos that are very popular nowadays that can help and support independent learning. For example, when students or participants are preparing for a trip. And the same with social and personal development, we can look at the use of video or photographic journals in terms of reflecting on an experience and having a creative tool to process a learning experience, which is kind of the modern or digital approach to a field diary. However, when we look at the third Point, I think this is perhaps the most challenging value.
The development of a connection to nature and the direct experience of nature. Because when we use digital technologies in the outdoors, we have a relation that shifts from a human-nature connection to a human-technology-nature interface, where technology becomes a mediator of human experience. And we can for example think about how we read online maps or GPS, rather than learning to read the features of the landscape by using a map and by learning to recognize certain aspects of the landscape.
So, I too would like to share my personal statement, which is that I think that it's unrealistic to state that we can or must avoid using digital technology in our educational practices, but I think instead we should focus on learning about and gaining a deeper understanding of the impact of digital means, how we can use their potential and how we can mitigate the disadvantages and that we should continuously reflect on this, rather than avoiding to talk about it or denying that digital technologies in any way influence the field. And we need to learn about it and understand it, so that we can make better informed decisions about when, where, how to use it, or not use it for that matter. I think that was it for now, so I'll hand the word to Simon, and I think he will pass it on to Dave. Thanks, Imre. Over to you, Dave Hills.
Thanks, Simon. Thanks for everyone for coming. It's great to see you, a great representation of countries in the chat. It is fantastic to be here and I really enjoyed working with Jack and Imre for the past few months, and thanks very much for hosting, Simon. At this stage, I just want to recognize the contribution of my supervisor, Glynn Thomas as well in my work. I know he's also in the feed and he's currently camped out in the field, so it's a good effort that he could dial in. So, my response to this question. 'The use of digital technology is fundamentally contrary to its values'.
The way my research would contribute to this, and I've been doing my PhD now for the last four, four and a half years, and I've just finished writing up my data. I surveyed over 150 outdoor educators from over 20 countries, and completed in-depth interviews with over 30 participants in over 8 countries. And, my research is suggesting three things that really would possibly mediate how an outdoor educator would respond to that statement, or what mediates responses to that statement. I represented them on my slide, they're the pedagogical considerations, the five points on the left, the application of outdoor education. And really I found that its people's response to the statement below, which tends to invoke people's response to that statement and their opinion on technology.
So, I found that the optimal management of technology in outdoor education, whether that's including it or excluding it, is really critically considering and responding effectively to those five pedagogical considerations. So, thinking about the facilitators, the students, and the learning outcomes, whether they're formalized or not, whether they're agreed or not, but really making that management of technology bespoke to those three top things I found or my research suggested is really key. Those two key things at the bottom and the application of outdoor education and the organizational values, to link into Jack and Imre's slides, in Australia, outdoor education in Australia articulates three applications of outdoor education on the website: a standard in subject approach or camp and a teaching methodology, and my research has shown that really that tends to vary the management of technology. If you're applying outdoor education in the context, like any other subject, then often technology has been just as relevant, whereas if you were perhaps applying outdoor education in its purest form as a methodology or pedagogy, then I my research has shown that at times it's less relevant.
The other thing I found in collecting my data is that each organization has their own values and every educator has their own values of what our education is. And sometimes it's that conflict of values which just causes that conflict between the inclusion and exclusion of technology. So, I found it fairly effective to simply ask people the question at the bottom, that to what extent is your application of outdoor education, in your session, a break from the norm of education? For some outdoor educators that I've spoken to, it's not, it's another field of education that's led into the rest of the curriculum, and technology is normal, and it's laid in like everything else. For others, their delivery education has something different. You know, a complete break from the norm, a disconnection, and for them that statement is correct, the use of technology in outdoor education is fundamentally contrary to its values. So, I think that I'd like to point out that I'm not advocating for or against technology in outdoor education. I think I'm just advocating frameworks for
outdoor educators to make evidence-based, critical decisions about how it's managed, and if you would like to read a bit more about that, me and Glynn published a framework upon this work about a year ago, and I'll put the link in the chat if people would like to read more about this construct. Thanks, Simon. Thank you, Dave, and thanks all three of you for getting us off to a great start. So, now this is the discussion for part two here. So, if we can accept, so that is an if, if we can accept that digital technology is embedded in outdoor education, what do we know about its potential and what are key areas to explore more deeply? And I think that's just to kind of bring people back to the rationale behind this webinar, is we're suggesting that there's, I mean, just as we're seeing in the chat here, there's a huge amount of experience, critical thinking and so on, in the world of outdoor education and using digital technology.
But there is still a pretty limited, that literature is limited in terms of what's been done empirically and has been published in reliable outlets. So, let's kick things off. Part two. Dave. Fantastic, thanks Simon. And a great comment there from Greg in the chat,
it's just led nicely into my slide. He was asking about when we're going to talk about VR and AR, and that's exactly what I'm going to talk about now. I'm also going to pick up on affordance theory that we've been speaking about, and again, highlight some of the literature which is coming out, to read a bit more about this topic. So, basically I haven't come across it, affordance theory or technological affordance theory that we've been mentioning, there's some fantastic research coming out which articulates this balance or imbalance with technology in society. Basically, affordance theory is all about the bands between technological determinism on the one hand, and social constructivism on the other, and we see this throughout the discussion that we've had today. We see it politically,
we see it socially and it's only going to play out more, I think, in the coming years. So, my research has identified five affordances of technology in the outdoor education, all of which have an equal and opposing side to including and excluding tech, and they are: safety, learning and engagement, place, environmental connection, and teamwork and collaboration. And from what I've seen from interviewing 30 people and 150 survey responses from those twelve different countries is that every time you include or exclude technology, you always gain something, but then you always lose it as well. So, in some ways technology we know makes our operations safer, but they also make them less safe as well.
We know that they engage people and turn the task, but they also distract them at the same time. So, affordance theory really prompts us to look critically at both sides of the affordance in making that decision, and trying to think, 'OK, if I remove everybody's phones, remove everyone's iPads, or if I give them a digital device, what am I going to gain and what am I going to lose?' So, what I found in my data is regardless of your position on technology and outdoor education, you're always going to gain something and you lose something. And that's quite a nice balanced way to look at it.
To answer the second part of the question on the slide, where to next and what do we need to explore more deeply? As Greg mentioned, we can't have this discussion without talking about Apple Glass. We know Apple are really good at disrupting sectors, and I believe that it's coming next year and actually going to disrupt a lot of our world for the better and the worse. Apple glass, the augmented reality version of what they're bringing out, is tipped to replace computers and phones. Screen companies are going out of business with these revelations, and they think that's all you'll need in the outdoors, which clearly has a huge issue for our sector in terms of disconnecting people, or in terms of getting people to unplug and unfiltered experience to nature. But looking at it from an affordance theory standpoint, it might create a greater need to disconnect and take off those glasses and engage in the outdoors.
And outdoor education might become one of those one true places where you can completely switch off and take that filter off, but I think as a as a profession we really need to be proactive, and not reactive to Apple'. next big disruption. Use it to our advantage, take all the opportunities it gives us and manage it effectively before students start turning up on our sessions with these devices. So, I'm hoping to address a lot of these things in the future, and really continue this work. I wanted to highlight a book chapter that I've got coming out next year.
I'll put the link in the thread. It's a chapter in Glynn, Janet and Heather's book, and hopefully, if you want to read more about affordance theory and these topics, please check it out. Thanks, Simon.
Thank you, Dave. OK. Over to you Imre. Thank you. Well, some of the points that I want to discuss have already briefly come up, which I hope I can just elaborate a little bit more on, and I'll also build a little bit more on Dave's affordance theory.
So, my focus, as mentioned earlier, is on mobile technology specifically, and I think this topic has become especially interesting and even more relevant than it was before, during the pandemic where digital mobile technologies have facilitated the concept of learning anytime, anywhere, perhaps more than ever before. And so, when we look at the potential of mobile technology, I think there's two obvious main characteristics which are mobility and portability. Together they refer, of course to that users can communicate at anytime, anywhere and with anyone, and the fact that they're wireless make it able for us to bring them along wherever we go and connect to any network, which of course depending on the context or on the place, I know that in Norway the 4G and 5G is expanding to almost anywhere, even further in the mountains. So, this mobility and portability have some obvious benefits for facilitating learning out-of-doors, so Dave already introduced the affordances, but some of the benefits are: the access to information, so I think what we use very often is checking the weather info, checking information about the local environment, planning transportation, perhaps on winter trips, checking avalanche warnings or having specific applications for avalanches. Of course, we can communicate with our colleagues or students or participants, or in case of emergency, and it enables us to document and share information, and these are only some of the benefits. But of course there's also pitfalls that we should consider in terms of, what already has been mentioned, issues of equity in terms of availability, costs, and access to the devices and also of course access to networks, also the use of mobile digital technologies in terms of how they can distract from a specific learning activity, and that they may hinder direct experience of nature, but also that they can increase risk in terms of providing a technology-driven sense of false safety, where participants or students may go into areas for which they don't have the actual skills to roam those areas, and if something happens, or if the technology fails, they are left on their own and have to rely on their own skills.
So, these are important considerations. Based on the systematized review I did, which hopefully will be, it is accepted, it will be hopefully online available very soon, but I frame these affordances under three considerations for employing mobile technology, which are listed here on the on the PowerPoint slide. And I think regardless of all the potential of digital technology, it's very important that we don't use digital mobile technologies uncritically, because they may indeed hinder the teaching and learning objectives, so we should minimize usage and critically reflect on if we need to use them and why we need to use them. So, that relates to the second point, the intentionality, so that we set very clear pedagogical intentions, not just for ourselves, but also reflect on how do we convey these intentions to the participants, or to students. How do we convey these messages of why do we use this device? Or why do we use this application exactly in this moment? What are the risks that are involved and what are the benefits? And then the adaptation, based on the suggestions that I've read, some of the most important points are to use interactive, informative and creative tasks that are also based on teamwork collaboration, but that definitely don't make the device or the application to focus points, So, that the destructive kind of effect is mitigated in that way. And I think through all of that, continuously reflecting is very important, that any use, but also any non-use of digital technology requires critical examination.
And as I already mentioned in one of the comments in the discussion around that we have to consider the different stages. So, the planning, the enactment or during an activity, and the post-activity or reflection and evaluation phases. And that is something I also hope, throughout my research, to learn more about. And then finally, I think, one thing that maybe hasn't been mentioned yet is that some people that may be hesitant, or maybe feel very strongly against using technology, I think it is so important that when we adopt digital or mobile technologies in one aspect or one activity, it doesn't mean that it takes place in every aspect of our teaching or our practice, so we can make well-informed decisions of having one activity, for example, a photo-elicitation assignment, and then having an activity where we don't use technology at all, and also not to be afraid to talk with our participants or our students about these challenges. Do they notice a difference? How do they experience that? And ask them the same critical questions and the same discussion points that we discuss now together.
We shouldn't be hesitant to discuss that with our students as well. So, what's next? I think some of the key areas come to explore more deeply, I mean, I think I could come up with like 20 points, but I think we should gain a deeper insight in mapping or exploring really all the different ways in which we already use it, and to explore more practical and creative ways of using digital learning tools in ways that they can serve the objectives of outdoor education or of a specific activity. I think the more we learn about this, the more we can give actual this practical advices to each other as well. I mean, we're now three PhD students, as far as we know, working on this topic, and each of us aims to get to know more about all these challenges in our own projects. But there's really too much to explore for just the three of us, and I think one of the challenges we've discussed together is that technology advances probably much quicker than we will be able to finish our PhDs, so we're just trying to keep up here.
And I'm finally, I think one critical aspect is to better understand the mediating impact of digital technologies on the actual nature experience. So, I'm currently writing, or exploring a postphenomenological perspective on nature experience. And, yeah, I hope that that may help us better understand this final question. I think that's it for now.
Thanks so much, Imre. And now to close off the presentations, we have Jack Reed. Great. Welcome to those who have just joined us, I should also say, we've got a few new faces in here. Thanks for coming.
Over to you, Jack. Great, thanks Simon. And yeah, as the chat was going on in the last plenary, I was thinking 'my goodness this is fantastic', 'cause a lot of this stuff that's coming up I'm hoping to discuss in these next 5 minutes. So, what do we already know? Well, it's important to say that there is a significant amount of literature outside the outdoor education field now, that focuses on young people's uses and relationships with both networked spaces, which of course include social media, and something that I found really helpful here is the term the 'postdigital', and so I wouldn't mind briefly discussing this, and I did write a brief paper in Pathways just recently about this as well, if you're looking to have a plan to look at this little bit further. The postdigital recognizes that, especially in a kind of global North context, that this binary that we've already discussed between the digital and the non-digital essentially no longer exists. And we don't need to look very far to see this. Now this little device
that I have here is my alarm, it's my diary, it's my camera. It also offers access to my friends, to work, and yes, even to those pesky emails. However, as Florian Krammer Peter Handrich recently discussed, the postdigital is a strange term. We essentially live in a society that is more and more digital. So, the kind of 'post' in postdigital doesn't really make a whole heap of sense.
But what the postdigital represents is that the digital no longer describes any meaningful difference. The digital is the default and it is the unescapable condition. So, why does that matter for outdoor education? Well if we begin from the standpoint that we no longer have a so-called non-digital sphere, then it's reasonable to suggest at least that outdoor education is embedded and sustained in a truly digital culture. And I think this is important really, when we're thinking about how learning is both embedded and sustained for young people in contemporary educational contexts. So, that's the postdigital, and that's the kind of collapsing binary that I mentioned at the end of the plenary there. But moving on to point two, there are clearly, I think, many areas to explore here as has already been mentioned, but one area for thought came from a really interesting book chapter written by Susan Herring in 2008, called 'questioning the generational divide technological exoticism and adult constructions of online identity.'
Now in it, she says that when adults use words such as unprecedented or words such as transformational in relation to relationships between young people and technology, then adults inadvertently at least kind of 'other' the experiences of young people in this domain. And Herring explains this issue as the experience gap between young people and adults. So, really kind of having adults talk about young people's uses of technology, it must not be at the expense of listening to learners themselves, and I think this is critical really as we move forward in outdoor education as we know there is, for now at least, limited literature which centralizes the youth voice in this space. And the second issue actually was brought up by Heidi Smith in the chat not too long aga, around the kind of sliding scale of access to technology for young people. It's estimated that over 3.8 billion people have some form of access to social media across the world, but we cannot, and indeed should not, assume that all young people have equal access to these forms of technology. And I think we can go further here.
There are other factors at play for young people who do have a smartphone who are connected. For instance, things such as intersectional issues around maybe gender, sexuality, socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicity. And of course there are more. Yeah, we have to ask how these may begin to affect how young people use networked spaces. I think these are key areas for the field of education more broadly to consider, and absolutely key factors for both research and practice in outdoor education.
And finally, point three, it's yeah, super important that we ask 'where to next?' Now, I don't want to bring down the mood here by mentioning that the Covid word, but I think this is really important when thinking about where next, especially in this context of technology, so during lockdowns and isolation, there is literature now emerging which recognizes how networked spaces provided a kind of critical arena for young people's interactions, but also for their learning, for their sense of togetherness, and also for their sense of belonging. And in the UK context at least, as residential centers begun thankfully reopening, I think it's really important to recognize that connectivity for young people has been, and will likely continue to be, more important than ever. I think this is a, like I say, a critical consideration for both research and practice, especially as we hopefully, hopefully move toward a post-pandemic society.
So, overtime. I'll end there. But thank you very much. Pass back to Simon. Great, well I want to thank our three presenters: Imre van Kraalingen, Jack Reed, Dave Hills, for your wonderful and informed input today. It kind of feels like I'm cheating by not having to read all this other stuff, 'cause I don't need to read it at all. I just need to know people who have read it all. So, thanks so much for all the work that you're doing in this.
Bye everybody! Thanks for joining us today.