Farewell to Place? The impact of invasive information and communication technologies on our relationship with the Planet

In recent years ‘place-based education’ has been receiving increased attention from educators and policy-makers as a means to help people, young and old, re-connect with the physical, material and socio-ecological world they, oftentimes unknowingly and unconsciously, inhabit. There is a whole body of scholarly work emerging that suggests that (re)discovering and (re)connecting with place can be restorative (therapeutic, healing, etc.), generative (leading to new ways of seeing, sensing, experiencing) and empowering by enabling people to shape and care for a place. Apparently there are a number of psychological, sociological and pedagogical benefits associated with place-based education (see the work of David Sobel and Greg Smith for examples).

What I am interested in, however, is not so much to echo these benefits but to mirror them against a hegemonic trend that affects the entire globe: the exponential growth of highly invasive and, indeed, addictive hyper media and associated information and communication technologies.

Whereas place-based education, somewhere in the margins of education, seeks to reconnect people with the physical space around them, this counter hegemonic trend seems to do the exact opposite, only in much more forceful way. Educators in general and environmental educators in particular need to ask themselves what the implications are of the age of wireless, hyper-media and ICT for teaching and learning, but also for the way people ‘relate’ to each other but also to nature and the planet as a whole. Strangely, even though educators themselves are also inundated by these new ICTs both in their personal and professional lives, this question has hardly been raised so far. I’d like to propose a Special Issue for a journal like Environmental Education Research to bring together some of the early and emerging work that is being done in this area. Some contributions may consider the impact of ICTs and hypermedia on people’s sense of place and the implications for teaching and learning. Others perhaps will sketch possible educational responses that may critically take advantage of elements of the ICT revolution which can help re-store the current disconnect between people and place. Again others may wish to explore yet a different angle to this timely topic in education and learning.

Anyone with ideas for papers that might fit in such a special issue… feel free to respond. Perhaps we can pull something together.

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Going to college with sustainability in mind – but where?

Today I received an interesting new years message from Rolf Jucker from the CoDes project:

Dear All

I hope you have had a very good start to 2012 and wish you all the very best for it!

I have a question regarding tertiary education for my daughter. She is currently finishing her IB at the Mahindra United World College of India and she is looking around for suitable colleges to maybe go to after a gap year.

We have discussed it at length over Christmas and we find it very, very difficult to suggest anything suitable.

She has had a very special educational experience at Mahindra College and she doesn’t really want to study at a conventional university (be it as prestigious as it might be) where we have all the known problems David Orr has so succinctly spelled out years ago: i.e. highly intelligent lecturers and students doing high status degrees, but with scant respect for sustainability, for the consequences of the careers they are aspiring to, etc.

So she is looking for a college where students and staff are committed to actually practising sustainability, not just in the studies, but also in the way that they live together, act, etc. (be it through regular work at an attached farm or in the community, through the way they prepare and cook food, the way they interact with each other and staff, they way the campus is run and kept, etc. etc.).

Her interests lie in Environmental Systems Studies, Biology, and languages (particularly Spanish) and she is wondering whether first a liberal arts degree might be a good idea.

My question now is (since there is no way to find stuff like that over the internet: either you personally know about it and can vouch for it, or it’s impossible to assess):

Do you know of any colleges, degree schemes etc. which might fit this bill? They can be in the US, the UK, mainland Europe, India, Australia, wherever.

I can’t really think of any examples other than maybe Schumacher College (but that is only MA /MSc level, not BA, or is it?) or Hartland Small School (but that’s not exactly tertiary …).

I would be very, very grateful indeed for any suggestions.

With many thanks in advance and best wishes Rolf

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Here’s what my immediate response was:

Thanks Rolf!

What a wonderful message/question. Not an easy one… Some come to mind: The Peace University or U of the Peace in Costa Rica, Evergreen College, Prescott College en Middelbury College in the US, but let me think a little more.

I would like to use your message on my blog… To see how people from across the world respond to this question. With two children (18, 15) myself I am also interested in finding out.

Would that be alright?

Wageningen is nice, small, very international, sustainability-oriented, etc. but is still not what you two seem to be looking for.

All the best,

Arjen

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If you have any ideas – then please let me/us know!