Wednesday, 23 July 2014


Having recommended to students that they consider using a public blog as a learning journal for undergraduate and post-graduate study its time to start doing the same myself as I embark on a journey through the EdD course lead by Gerry Davis at Anglia Ruskin University. I am very much looking forward to working with Gerry, Prof. Tim Waller and the rest of the team on this journey. 

My interview was planned to be done via via Skype but despite having a connection at home that has reached 30Mbps on occasion over the last few days it was only limping along when most needed so we switched to telephone and I posted the info below to help answer some of the questions I was asked. 

There is a growing body of research in relation to the benefits of increasing children's exposure to being outdoors in natural environments. Approaches such as that promoted by the Forest School Association are often founded on developing a natural relationship with the natural environment. Use of technologies is largely limited to non digital tools. In contrast other outdoor learning approaches may embrace the use of portable digital technologies to some degree even to the extent where the technology is the reason for going outside. There is a need for schools to understand the benefits of each in supporting curriculum related activities and consider how to achieve a good balance between these approaches. When a school invests in creating or enhancing a natural environment area for Forest School activities I can see validity in arguments in favour of keeping it as a special place for natural learning with minimal technology use but I also agree there can be a lot of benefit for using the same place as a context for exploring what can be done with digital technologies outdoors. Having discussed attitudes towards technologies with a fair few Forest School practitioners one of the key reservations seems to be the intrusion factor and whether bringing portable technologies into play disrupts the immersion in the natural experience.

The number 1. use of portable technologies would currently appear to be capturing photographs of outdoor experiences, finds and made artifacts. That children are keen on this kind of record keeping is clear; memories are good but a photo is more easily shared and proves the memory.

Citizen science is starting to expand and there are now many initiatives such as iRecord Ladybird and the big butterfly count, most have Apps which enable anyone, who has a smart phone or tablet, to identify an insect, plant or larger wildlife by photographing it and rapidly comparing it with a database. They can learn about it from the stored information and then upload a photo of the sighting or tag it via a counter that automatically has location data attached to it. Somewhere in the depths of a university a new dot appears on a map and the scientific data has expanded.

There are many similar initiatives including We have moved a long way from scribbling on soggy or muddy notepads. The potential to use portable technologies to contribute to real world research in the field may offer benefits in terms of increasing motivation to learn, developing ICT skills, developing curriculum knowledge and learning how to capture and present information.

Making woodland creatures is a common Forest School activity and one that is also often done back at the classroom where found materials are used to create art; the artifacts are often record by photographs.

The opportunity to go one step further and digitally bring critters to life does not seem to be a common approach although I hope to find more data about this as I progress. Below is a first attempt stop motion video made by a dyslexic 10 year old who finds conveying stories via text frustrating yet had the patience to take 124 still images and process them for a few seconds of story - a task that took almost 3 hours using a Nikon P600 with very little adult input. 


There are many flaws but there was also a lot of learning; the tangible evidence in the video enabled errors to be identified and new plans for a second shoot to be formed. 

Improvements identified by the child:
Turn the date / time stamp off on the camera.
Need a larger more stable tripod. This was done using a mini tripod that was not really up to supporting a bridge camera. 
Camera and tripod slowly moved during shooting - Use the inbuilt wi-fi to link to a smart phone for taking the pics without having to touch the camera. 
More frames per second needed / smaller movements between shots.
Storyboard needed.
Can I do this by just using my iPod? 

A barrage of ideas for future projects followed, ambition ignores practicalities - the key ambition is a full length rendering of Les Miserables using made critters and scenes. The project is unlikely to be fulfilled in the short term but has stimulated deep thinking about solving technical and artistic problems as well as a sense of self worth and pride in achievement, the latter is potentially the most important gain although not one easily recorded by current metrics.

There is growing concern that there are many benefits gained by children which are not easy to measure or which do not feature in government targets or assessment methods. As a result of the above video there are ICT and Art skills that could be ticked off but the mechanism to record the more difficult to quantify deeper learning that forms characters and inspires children to aspire to bright futures is largely lacking. This is an area that outdoor learning practitioners and researchers at the Plymouth University 2014 Walk the Talk conference identified as a pressing need that should be addressed. It is also implicit in the wording of the leaving letter sent to Barrowford school pupils that went viral and gained positive TV coverage:

An exploration of the use of portable digital technologies in outdoor learning. 
Who? Children and teaching staff.
What? Portable technologies and outdoors. 
Where? School grounds and wider natural environment.
When? During and outside of school.
How? The research will identify a limited set of approaches feasible to use with children and explore the impact of these through practical application in schools.
Why? The research will be designed to uncover barriers and benefits associated with the practical approaches that are explored and to develop a system for articulating these.

At this point I am just scoping the potential focus for my project, a lot of reading and talking will happen  over the coming year to develop a more cohesive proposal.