Technology vs The outdoors!

I’m one of those people who thinks too much and, which doesn’t help my sleep pattern, when I get something in my head I find it hard to shift it until I have given it plenty of thought. Now, I want to make it clear from the outset that I am not trying to be controversial with this waffle, I’m more just thinking out loud and wondered if anyone has any answers to the questions I present. Got you curious? Well this week’s waffle is all about not going outside to learn…


Don't make me go outside. (Original Image from pixabay.com)

Don’t make me go outside.
(Original Image from pixabay.com)

Over the past couple of weeks I have seen and read a couple articles about children learning outside – one about a school in the woods, while the other one contained the quote – “Parents, be ready to pack your children off with just a kiss and a bag of essentials – and mobile phones are not allowed”. As you can imagine, with the mention of no mobile phones mentioned I read the article with interest and although I don’t want to specifically discuss these articles they did get me thinking about learning outdoors and whether this totally against the use of technology.

Learning outside the classroom

I probably should define what I mean by learning outside the classroom first and how this definition will be used throughout this waffle. You only need to look back through some of my waffles (Fun with Nature and School Trips) to realise that I am very much in favour of learning taking place outside the confines of the classroom. I continue to believe that learning needs to be consistently linked to real life contexts and situations and the best way for the children to acknowledge this link is to actually experience it. This might include class visits, experts coming to the school or even just exploring the playground. But does this mean that learning needs to be ‘outside’ and without the use of technology?

Don’t make me go outside!

There is a story that my mum tells when she wants to embarrass me about the time I came running indoors screaming because I had some dirt on my hand. If you know me you might be assuming that this was just a couple of days ago but really it was when I was five…I think. I have never been one of those children or adult who likes the outdoors. When I say ‘like’ I mean that if given a preference I would prefer to be inside (preferably in a coffee shop) with my laptop and hopefully wifi, doing what I enjoy doing. Don’t get me wrong, I like walking in the rain and there are landscapes and scenery which are truly inspiring but given the choice I consider myself a modern, technology loving guy. I learn in a variety of places but one of them is not outdoors. I can learn and teach outdoors – you should see me uncovering bugs in the uni nature area when teaching living things in science – but given the option, my office, coffee shop or library is my favoured learning space. If you made me go outside then my motivation would seriously be reduced and I would become, maybe, even moody. Now I might be totally unique, but if I do not like the outdoors is it possible that this might be true for some children? Could it happen that some children are actually demotivated by having to learn outside or engaging in mud kitchens or autumn woodlands?If this is true, then learning in these environments could actually be detrimental to the child’s learning. Now before you sharpen your sticks and advance on me camouflaged in green leaves, read the next section.

Providing opportunities

Children grow up experiencing a range of different activities and environments. I believe that as facilitators of learning it is important for us to provide a wealth of experiences for children in order for them decide what they like and what they have a natural talent for. Having a week without music and art would not allow the children who excel in these areas to demonstrate their skills. This would be the same with learning environments. It is essential that the children experience learning in all different environments whether this be in the classroom or outside in the forest. Only through experiencing these will children develop their own preferences for learning, something which we have all done over the years. Therefore – conclusion for this section – I would say that taking the children outside should happen, but only within the range of different learning environments they encounter.

…Leave your technology at home.

You all know that I am a bit of a techie and many people might even label me as a geek. I do enjoy almost every aspect of technology and consider that it has an important role in education and learning. But is technology and the ‘outdoors’ really against each other? Everyone knows I enjoy sitting, drinking coffee and using my macbook. This is my hobby, something which I enjoy doing in my spare time. On a day off this would be what I consider to be a perfect relaxing day. I sometimes get told that I should get out more and get away from technology and go for a walk etc. If I really enjoyed this I would but I wonder why people sometimes find it difficult to accept that I actually enjoy technology. Leaving my technology, whether that be my phone or macbook, at home and going somewhere without it for a day would not be enjoyable for me. You might say that I am reliant on technology or that I could be considered dependent on it, but same could be said about cars, my faith forgotten Fil-o-Fax or even that hardback diary I used to have at school. I can live without it all – I would, and I admit this, find it difficult, but more importantly, I wouldn’t enjoy it. But does there need to be such a marked disconnection between going off into a wood to experience the environment and technology? Geocaching is enjoyed by many people which links the technology with the outdoors. Recording the experience through the use of voice,video and images is a way of not only sharing the experience but also remembering it. I realise that mobile phones might be used to communicate with others rather than engaging with the experience, but if the experience is not engaging for the person, then should we make them engage? I have been on residential trips with children and I really do think that using their mobile phone was probably the last thing on their mind when they were enjoying the activities. During my degree, Environmental Studies and Social Biology, I remember sitting on a cold patch of earth using a pocket book on arthropods to try and identify a bug which I had found in a trap (a humane trap of course!). Using technology to take images of the mysterious bug or even connecting to the internet in an attempt to identify it appeals more to me now – especially sitting back at home with a coffee using the images for identification.

This might be just another waffling waffle where you might have reached this point and be asking yourself, what on earth are you going on about Mr Waffle! I guess I have posed many questions and have only paddled in the shallows about this topic. Experts in this area of learning might already be preparing a list of quotes and points to counter or react to mine. I’m no expert in the use of the outside environment but at the same time I am definitely not against it. Maybe, in summing up, what I would like is acceptance that technology can be used together with being out in the wilds and that maybe, just maybe, even though there are many positives about learning outside that not all children (or adults) might be as keen to put their coats on and venture out on this type of learning expedition.

I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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Have fun, engage and I’ll catch you later