Earthducation is an adventure learning project that is examining how education might influence a healthier future for our planet while highlighting innovations linking education and sustainability around the world. The project evolved from a decade of delivering adventure learning projects to classrooms around the globe. As we collaborated with diverse cultures in locations ranging from the Arctic to South Africa, it became evident there were exhilarating stories, large and small, that deserved a worldwide audience. The design challenge was how to embody the broad project scope, which involved travel to all seven continents over four years, while showcasing the stunning media and rich content being collected, and giving voice both to local participants as well as students and other online participants interested in joining the conversation. The design solution was the creation of a three-tiered online learning environment comprised of: a central hub; individual continent-focused sites that provide background on the communities and local issues being explored and that allow the team to post live updates from the field; and a video wall called the Environetwork where students and the general public can share their own perspectives on the issue of education and sustainability.
Earthducation provides a unique online environment for learning about and sharing sustainability stories and examples. It advances critical thinking on natural resource protection and how systems of formal and informal education might influence sustainability of our natural world. Also, in sharing captivating media and stories from remote regions that highlight the world’s diversity and beauty, it serves as a compelling draw to engage the public in discussions about the importance of protecting our natural world.
The Earthducation team has interacted with a broad array of individuals worldwide, from farmers and grassroots innovators, to indigenous Elders, government officials, educators, even kings! The project has raised awareness and prompted responses through multiple venues on multiple levels. At both the local and global level, Earthducation has generated discussion around projects and policy tied to education and sustainability and prompted responses in such forms as Environetwork participation and classroom lesson planning.
In sharing innovative but lesser known sustainability solutions from communities facing economic struggles, Earthducation provides inspiration for other communities facing similar challenges. For example: In an economically disadvantaged community outside Lima, Peru, residents are harvesting water from fog to grow crops to provide income for local families. And in remote Australia and Alaska, schools are partnering with local elders to provide career training for youth that blends traditional and modern skills and values.
Earthducation is centered on collecting and sharing sustainability stories from diverse communities worldwide, while generating dialogue around the topic of education for sustainability. Through promoting awareness and understanding of different values and approaches to sustainability, we can inspire creativity in solution-crafting on local and global scales alike. For example, we’ve promoted the role traditional knowledge has in influencing local attitudes and behaviors.
With worldwide scope, a focus on education for sustainability, and a goal to collect and share high-quality, engaging media and stories directly from communities impacted by sustainability challenges, Earthducation stands apart. Our team has faced many challenges in this pursuit. To name just a few: How do we best design an online learning environment that captures a snapshot of global issues and solutions without overwhelming our audience? How should we identify which communities to visit and issues to target? How do we engage with remote communities and share their stories online? and How do we encourage online participation from a diverse audience?
Dr. Aaron Doering’s adventure learning (AL) approach to education and his decade worth of research and experiences traveling by dogsled and pulk while working with remote communities has informed the design and goals of Earthducation. The project also drew inspiration from a challenge set forth by the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Cultures on all continents have different relationships with the land and different educational traditions impacting the formation of environmental attitudes and behavior. The Earthducation team aimed to create a cross-cultural, multidimensional online experience that captured the beauty of our diverse planet and people. Dr. Charles Miller thus designed an environment focused on evocative imagery and engaging storytelling, seeking to convey the differing landscapes and cultures around the world from a very personal perspective and in the voices of real individuals from many walks of life.
Led by Dr. Doering, three Earthducation members have been traveling to climate hotspots on all the continents and collaborating with diverse communities there. Extensive research goes into the planning of each trip, as we investigate major sustainability issues facing communities in the target region. We contact countless individuals: leaders in education, research, grassroots efforts, indigenous communities. With their guidance, our own research efforts, and a frugal budget, we organize logistics and arrange homestays, interviews, and school visits. As we pursue engaging stories that generate dialogue and innovation, we travel by the most sustainable methods available, and overnight, whenever possible, with families, at schools, or in small establishments run by locals.
Collected media and stories are posted online while the team is in the field and are housed in an environment that includes background information about communities and issues being explored, along with associated educational resources and activities for teachers. The general public is encouraged to share perspectives via self-posted videos in the Environetwork. Our research and experiences to date illustrate both how education can influence sustainability in different regions of the world, and the complexities that geographical location and culture bring to this topic.
“It was hard to choose a judge’s favorite, as many entries were excellent examples of the principles promoted by the (Re)Design Awards. However, the entry that resonated with me the most was Earthducation. I was delighted to review this different type of designed approach, which fit well with the Living Principles Framework. I appreciated their thoughtful narrative statement, as well as the massive endeavor of documenting these explorations on education and sustainability around the world. As an educator, I believe this is the type of work schools need to embrace — a deep dive in re-framing what sustainability education means in the 21st century.”
~ Natacha Poggio, 2013 AIGA (Re)design Awards Judge