LAST MONTH WE RECEIVED A GREAT COUNTERPOINT to the piece "Useful Apps for Outdoor Learning",
which focused on iPhone and iPad applications, or apps, to assist with
Wisconsin tree identification. The article was intended to showcase a few of
the apps our staff members have used and to help educators find a suitable
digital field guide for Wisconsin trees and shrubs. The counterpoint article,
summarizes a fascinating study, "Creativity in the Wild: Improving
Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings",
designed to evaluate participants' cognitive function after spending three days
immersed in nature without computers, phones, or other electronic devices. The
investigators concluded that experiencing nature without technological
distractions elevated participants' creativity and problem-solving skills by 50
percent. And while we were not surprised by the study's findings, it generated
a lot of discussion within the office about the place of technology in the
outdoor classroom and how to limit the interruptions it often causes.
Although the study was
inconclusive as to the exact cause of the cognitive advantage, the
investigators hypothesize that it was a combination of increased immersion in
nature and decreased exposure to distractive, "attention demanding"
technology. So, if teachers decide to take technology into the outdoors, how do
they reduce intrusions and interruptions?
Below are some of our
thoughts. They may seem obvious, but we hope they provide a good starting point
for those of you who decide to venture out with technology in tow.
- Have students turn off ringers
- this may be evident but it's worth mentioning... and will likely be
repeated more than once in class.
- Have copies of a printed tree
identification book (available
at the Wisconsin DNR's Education Connection web page) for students who use their
iPhone or iPad for anything other than the assigned task. The threat of
having to physically turn the pages of a dichotomous key should encourage
most students to turn off incoming communications for the class period.
- Limit the use of smartphones
and tablets to a predetermined time. Allow students to use their
devices only when the entire class has stopped for a discussion of a
certain species or topic. When you decide the time is right, set a time
limit and provide incentives for correct answers.
- Practice, practice, practice. This too, probably goes without
saying, but it is worth repeating. Don't assume that because your students
know their way around social media sites they'll know how to use a digital
dichotomous key or
Remember, technology is
relative to its time; the printed page was once high-technology and a similar
debate took place in the early twentieth century when the camera was seen as a
major intrusion to the burgeoning nature study movement. So, what seems
intrusive and foreign to many of us today will likely become a staple of
tomorrow's outdoor classroom. As with your indoor classroom, a little planning
goes a long way and regardless of where you stand on technology and the
outdoors, we hope you'll find time to take your students outside to learn.