Ways to Integrate Place-Based Learning with Education Technology

One of the major fears associated with distance learning online is that a strong reliance on technology will prevent students from exploring the environment and forming deep connections with people. In a world affected by climate, economic struggles and the growing need to adapt to existing opportunities, practical experience, not just staring at a computer screen, is more important than ever.

One such way to address this challenge may be to integrate field learning (PBL) into educational technology. On-site learning immerses students in a locational or social experience. PBL lessons often include an outing or a field trip. Otherwise, lessons are largely based on location, community, and rich sensory details (excluding travel).

Both forms of learning actually have many common goals. These goals include personalized learning, student engagement, in-depth learning, creative thinking, and interdisciplinary education. PBL encourages students to analyze how they affect their environment and vice versa. This understanding then expands to how they connect with other people in communities. Since distance learning promises learning “anytime, anywhere,” why not complement it with close observation and curiosity about the ever-changing world of students?

The current pandemic is one of the biggest barriers to PBL.

Restrictions and safety concerns related to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant may interfere with travel plans. If travel is not an option, there are ways to bring location and community to the virtual classroom. As long as students can learn about the place in a way that they can apply in their daily lives, PBL does not necessarily contradict learning activities online.

So how does field-based learning relate to educational technology?

Technology and social media give students more freedom in research and self-knowledge. It also creates risks of misinformation and petty interaction. The educational technologies used in conjunction with PBL can create a unique learning experience on how to apply robust research to environmental studies and practice. Such experiences can help students challenge their initial perceptions and make more careful use of social media.

Augmented reality provides another deep connection between education technology and place. Relevant, eye-catching visuals appear in the student’s space in real time. AR can be location-based (i.e. museum or workspace) or object-object – bringing a unique experience to a student’s home. While it may not be as exciting as virtual reality, augmented reality should complement the world’s experience, not create a new one. Usually it is also cheaper to implement. Many AR applications run on smartphones, making this form of technology widely available.

GPS technology can link an understanding of a student’s environment with map-related skills. For recording or experimental purposes, GPS technology can be used to identify objects of interest that can be connected or compared with each other.

Because PBL often has a community context, the technology can be used to virtually connect students with experts and community leaders. Live streaming and video chat can allow the class to engage in dialogue, ask questions, or virtually tour a significant place. Initially, these types of experiences may have been less accessible due to restrictions on schedules and travel. Modern technological advances in integration into virtual classrooms can open these boundaries.

But how to ensure that field-based learning and educational technology are used effectively together?

Combining these two approaches to learning goes beyond teaching all participants how to acquire and use relevant software. Because of the nature of PBL, schools and educators need to build relationships with the communities they serve. Strong attitudes and open dialogue can significantly impact what will eventually be highlighted in lesson plans.

Field-based learning requires collaboration between educators and community leaders who invest in improving education. Because of this, cultural crossroads between community and class should be explored. Setting a common goal is an important first step toward improving relationships in more fragmented communities.

Because a key element of location-based learning is teaching students to exert local influence, students and families can be encouraged to share feedback and suggestions regarding current and previous lessons. How are the lessons applied to life? How do location and other people affect the ability to learn? Transparent feedback on lesson effectiveness and student participation also helps to improve educational technology for the better.

Marjorie Desomita is a freelance author who highlights educational technology, food and beauty. As a lifelong learner who has experience in tutoring, online learning and helping students improve their writing, she is interested in considering the role of technology in the learning process.

Recommended image: Holly Mandaric, Unsplash.

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