“If you’ve got motivation and ambition, then you can truly change students’ lives with technology.”
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Aaron Doering stopped by the International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies - Edulearn12 in Barcelona to share his passion for using technology in innovative ways, by focusing on experiences instead of products. His most recent project, Earthducation, takes this concept to creative extremes by bringing adventure learning to the classroom.
Aaron Doering’s experience as a K-12 Geography teacher convinced him of the need to link the real world to the classroom via technology in order to motivate students. Today he is associate professor in learning technologies at the University of Minnesota, co-director of the Learning Technologies Media Lab, and runs the adventure learning project Earthducation, which focuses on bringing global narratives on education and sustainability to students the world over.
Doering (www.chasingseals.com) recently stopped through Barcelona to deliver the keynote address at the International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies - Edulearn12, and to share his recipe for combining adventure and teaching in order to create change.
How is adventure learning possible…virtually?
What we do is write this specific curriculum, tie it to our experiences, and then bring in all the experts. So if we’re talking about whaling in the Arctic communities, we talk to a scientist, but we also bring in the students and the elders from that community, which people don’t normally do.
It’s applicable to every area, not rocket science at all, and the idea is that the ‘explorer’ is the expert in the field. It does take a different way of designing the learning environment, but you could have an electrical engineer providing real-time updates in coordination with the curriculum, for example.
Earthducation has you dog-sledding across the Arctic and cross-country driving in Australia, does the e-learning part of your project have as many miles under its belt?
It all depends on the year and how much exposure the project gets…But we’ve had over 3 million students a year who use our projects. That’s at least 2,000 classrooms on six continents.
Some of the climate hotspots you travel to are pretty remote, is e-learning a real option for isolated rural communities today?
It’s actually funny to talk about Internet access around the world, because it’s not what you might expect. In the Arctic, for example, maybe there were areas that weren’t connected 10 years ago, but now most are. The school is the hub of their village, and so they’ll have Internet access there, interactive whiteboards…it’s pretty amazing.
I’ve also spent a lot of time with the Sami, and they’re talking about how they can sustain their culture and their language, through online learning. They run videoconferences so as to teach in regions that otherwise wouldn’t have classrooms or teachers.
If that’s the case, what kinds of roadblocks does online education still face?
Well, take Africa, for example. You find they’re using little chalkboards because they don’t have textbooks, and they don’t have pens, but what they do have is mobile technologies. So it’s crazy, everyone’s texting when they don’t even have access to water.
So if we have mobile technologies in these communities…I mean, we’re dealing with other problems like how to charge the battery, or access to solar power…but the future might just look like this, like the mobile.
How does Europe compare to the U.S. with regards to online learning?
I think our goals for online learning and education are pretty similar. But we really need to rethink how we’re delivering online learning. It can’t just be discussion boards, or throwing up a power point and asking students to learn from that. It’s about creating an experience for each learner individually, by having them generate projects related to who they are, even as they’re working on the content we’re teaching.
What’s your advice for teachers who aren’t well versed in technology?
The first thing is that they just can’t allow themselves to be afraid of it. And we have to remember that this process takes time. Technology not only has the power to motivate your students, but also to reenergize you as an educator. It’s not going to happen overnight, though, and you have to move forward without fear. If you’ve got motivation and ambition, then you can truly change students’ lives with technology.