Where technology, education and adventure converge

by Nick Nelson

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EarthducationAaron Doering can’t say with certainty whether he invented the phrase “adventure learning.”

He is, however, credited with defining adventure learning as an educational approach.

Six years ago, he published the first established definition and guiding framework for AL, which is described as “a hybrid distance educational approach.”  Along with Charles Miller and Cassie Scharber, fellow co-directors at the University of Minnesota’s LT Media Lab, Doering continues to refine and apply the innovative construct using modern technology.

Adventure learning is at the core of one of the Media Lab’s most ambitious ongoing projects: Earthducation.

Doering says that the idea for this globetrotting initiative – one that sends him and Miller to every continent over the course of several years in an effort to find ways that education can advance sustainability ­– stemmed from earlier expeditions on a smaller scale. Specifically, he cites GoNorth!, a proof-of-concept project for adventure learning that involved dogsledding around the circumpolar Arctic and interacting with various cultures while more than three million learners followed along through an immersive online curriculum.

“One thing that I saw with the students in these regions (in the Arctic), was that the way they were being educated was not always reinforcing their traditional culture and values,” says Doering, pointing out that many cultural distinctions such as language and hunting were being brushed aside.

“There was a disconnect at times between traditional practices and the curriculum within the classroom — and thus the disconnect between education and sustainability.”

Wanting to examine this issue under a broader scope, Doering conjured up Earthducation, wherein they would travel to climate hotspots on each continent, interview indigenous cultures and see how they’re being affected by climate change.

Together with Miller and field media specialist Justin Evidon, who shoots the high-def videos that document the experience, Doering has traveled to remote locations in Africa, Europe and Australia. South America is next on the docket in the fall, and by 2014 they will have visited locations in North America, Asia and Antarctica to complete the project, which is funded largely by grants from the University’s Institute on the Environment.

While the people and locales are varied to say the least, Doering says the themes he encounters are “very similar across cultures.”

“Everyone is trying to adapt to a changing environment in order to have a better life and leave the place better than how they found it,” he says.

The wealth of online resources available through Earthducation enables people from around the world – including but not limited to K-12 classrooms ­– to get an inside look at these cultures and their unique challenges. A feature called EnviroNetwork allows any user to upload his/her own narratives relating to the intersection of education and sustainability, creating a “true collaboration across cultures.”

The LT Media Lab has been on the leading edge of utilizing technology to connect people from around the world in collaborative online learning environments, as they’ve shown with projects like Geothentic and Avenue.

Once Earthducation is finished (Europe, Australia, South America, Asia, North America and Antarctica), Doering says he plans to launch a similar project that will involve traveling to extreme places and examining how technology has influenced different cultures and economies.

Another fine example in the pursuit of things that matter:

“To inspire and create opportunities for global collaboration in addressing humanity’s most pressing educational, social, and environmental issues by designing and evaluating innovative technology-mediated solutions for learners, educators, researchers, and organizations around the world.”

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