A lot of participants in our four recent community forums complained about the addictive hold technology has on kids, and how it is one of the keys to young people’s alienation from nature. Kids are glued to their smartphones. All kids want to do is play computer games. Socializing online has taken over their lives. No one can resist, including parents. Or so it went.
Only one or twice though did participants raise the possibility of using technology to help young people connect better with nature. That possibility is worth considering of course because technology isn’t going away. It might be part of the problem now. The question is, can we make it part of the solution.
Not surprisingly (to me, at least), Andy Revkin thinks we can. Andy is a former New York Times science and environment reporter who currently is an omnipresent user of multiple forms of new media – Facebook, Twitter, video, his Dot Earth blog – to explore environmental science issues.
The essay in the Times a couple of weeks ago by Carol Kaesuk Yoon that caught our attention also caught Andy’s. Like Yoon, Andy agrees that exposure to nature on the Internet can have a positive affect on kids. He continues on his blog:
But I see the most promise in a hybrid of digital and direct experience, in which children and young adults get out in the wet, wriggling, fluttering world — whether a wilderness or Thoreau’s “swamp on the edge of town” — and then use the Web for that deeply human practice of communicating the things that catch our attention. One example is a teaching method of Professor Margaret Rubega of the University of Connecticut, who requires students in her bird biology class to use Twitter to document when they witness bird behavior. When the course is running, the hashtag #birdclass lets you track their observations. (Read “On Birds, Twitter and Teaching” for more.)
Although we at Connecticut Audubon Society know Professor Rubega (we’d better – she’s the state ornithologist, after all), we did not know she has been using Twitter in her classes for several years, and that it seems to have sparked a real interest in birds in her students. (If you did not click on the links in the excerpt from Andy’s post, above, here’s another chance to do so: this is a previous Dot Earth post about Professor Rubega and this is a piece from UConn today.)
One of the few participants in our forums who talked about finding ways to incorporate technology in outdoor environmental science studies was April Kelley, who teaches science at Lauralton Hall, a private girls school in Milford. She said she was considering having her students use IPads as field notebooks, and then having them post their videos, notes, photos, etc., online.
That sounds like a good idea (as long as you don’t drop your Ipad in a swamp) but there’s a big difference between expressing it at a community forum and incorporating it successfully into a high school class, and what works at a private girls school might not be so easy to put into place, say, at a public high school in Bridgeport. Nevertheless good ideas have to start somewhere.
Our spring community forum series ended in May (we’re finishing the final report now and are planning to distribute it by mid-July) and we will hold a new series in partnership with other organizations in the fall. We’re sure we will hear more complaints about the insidiousness of Iphones compared to the old-time pleasures of picking blackberries. We also hope to hear more about the real possibilities of using technology to engage kids in nature.
– Tom Andersen, director of communications and community outreach.