Sunday, October 16, 2011

Adventure Learning: Real Time, Real People, Real Issues

Imagine teaching biology to a group of students in a typical classroom and beginning class this way:

And now we will chat with a scientist on an expedition in Greenland answering question we have about changes in the ecology due to warming climate trends.

Or imagine learning about sustainability while following a team of scientists and educators through Africa, speaking with local villagers about sustainable agricultural practices or the impact of globalization. These are both possible thanks to some incredibly forward thinking and fearless innovators at the University of Minnesota. They call this hybrid distance education approach, Adventure Learning.

To quote from their wikipedia article:

Adventure Learning (AL) [1] is a hybrid distance education approach...[that provides] students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative learning environments, and is anchored in experiential and inquiry-based learning.[2] The AL approach includes educational activities that work in conjunction with the authentic experiences of researchers in the field. For example, within an AL program, the curriculum, the travel experiences and observations of the researchers, and the online collaboration and interaction opportunities for participating learners are delivered synchronously so that learners are able to make connections between what is happening in the real world and their studies, and then reflect on those events and present potential solutions to issues that are raised.[3]

The real world is happening 24/7 in every country on every continent on the planet. Why is it that when we enter a classroom setting, or even, unfortunately, when we enter most online courses, we shutter the windows as it were to the rest of the world. Why don't we invite that world in? Why don't we make the human connections that are possible now between what we are learning and the people that live those lessons every day?

Way back in the mid-90s, I ran an internet science camp for middle school kids. They were marginally engaged. Then one day we sent an invitation to an online group of scientists asking if they would chat with our class. To our great surprise, we had about 10 respond with an enthusiastic YES! I can still remember the day that our students were chatting live with scientists who were designing the Mars rovers or researching at Microsoft or DuPont. Our students were completely engaged, and everything we were trying to teach them about a future career in science was demonstrated in spades by these willing professionals reaching out to them with answers and advice.

How far can we take this approach? Imagine a language learning class following peers of the same age traveling through a country speaking the target language and engaging the target culture or just connecting with a class of local students. Imagine a science class connected to a team designing a solar car for the World Solar Challenge. Imagine an ancient history class following an excavation at Petra.

The possibilities are endless. Yes, it takes some extra effort. But, wow, isn't it worth it?

1 comment:

Susan Bainbridge said...

Great ideas Joseph!
There are so many choices these days for teachers, that I suspect many of them become overwhelmed with the ICT tools available.
This is good advice! Teachers: take advantage of the 'real-time' connections your students can make that will enhance their learning and your content.