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Outdoor Learning: Integrating Tech

EducationWorld is committed to bringing educators the practical tools they need to make good decisions, engage in effective leadership and implement strategies that work. To further this commitment, we have formed a content partnership with Stenhouse Publishers. EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts as part of this collaboration. Check back frequently as we feature additional excerpts from Stenhouse titles.

The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 5 of Moving the Classroom Outdoors: Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning in Action, by Herbert W. Broda (Stenhouse Publishers, 2011). The book retails for around $23 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

Be sure to check out other excerpts from this book: Too Cold to Go Outside? Bring the Outdoors In and Overcoming Obstacles to Outdoor Learning. Also, be sure to read our review of the book and our interview with the author.

The excerpt focuses on how to integrate technology in order to enhance students' outdoor learning experiences. With a little planning, teachers can help students reap the educational benefits of both the natural and digital worlds.

In reaction to the current digital practices of today’s youth, many are advocating a return to the natural world and subsequent limitation of digital consumption. As rates of obesity and attention deficit disorders rise, many are turning a wary eye toward the increased emphasis on all things digital. But does nature have to be at odds with the digital environments that are defining the twenty-first-century classrooms of today? Most important, can the digital world actually complement the natural/experiential world and vice versa? The answer is an emphatic yes!

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

Whether in an outdoor setting or in the classroom, the difference between the success and failure of a learning experience is dependent on the student’s ability to reflect on the experience. The ultimate goal of this reflective process, and the experiential learning process as a whole, is to provide present and future relevance “for the learner and the society in which he/she is a member” (Wurdinger 1997, 4). The purpose of experiential learning is not to develop silos of understanding, but to develop a web that connects past, present, and future learning to real and relevant situations.

This web of connections serves as our tipping point where technology begins to complement outdoor learning experiences. We can look at outdoor learning as a three-phase process.

In Phase I, preexperience, practitioners need to front load the outdoor experience and provide students with opportunities to do the following:

  • Build foundational knowledge
  • Develop some initial interpretations
  • Express and research concerns
  • Seek clarity about expectations

Phase I is the time when students are made aware of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they will be expected to develop throughout the outdoor learning experience. For example, the development of a class wiki is an effective way for students to begin exploring and reporting about the topic at hand.

In Phase II, midexperience, practitioners need to provide students with the structures and tools necessary for the collection of information. Regardless of the purpose of the outdoor learning, students need to be able to capture the experience in some way, and technological means can be helpful in this endeavor. Through the use of audio, video, and photographic recording devices, students can develop a chronological diary for any given experience and can provide auditory and visual cues for future analysis, evaluation, and reflection. This archive can serve as a critical tool for understanding the changes and learning that occurred throughout the experience.

Finally, in Phase III, postexperience, practitioners need to provide students with opportunities to reflect on, synthesize, and evaluate conclusions; engage in dialogue with others regarding their personal and collective growth; and create new works that express their understanding. To do this, students need to be engaged in collaborative work and provided with meaningful and authentic means to convey these new understandings. Technological media need to be selected that require students to develop new skills using software as well as seek ways to convey their message beyond text alone. Phase III should challenge students to bring their learning full circle through thoughtful analysis, evaluation, and creation.

Technology can complement outdoor learning experiences. By using a phased approach to developing outdoor experiences and then aligning objectives in each phase with supportive technological methodologies, students can gain a much richer and deeper understanding of the curriculum, themselves, their learning community, and the larger world.


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