Developing the outdoor seminar methodology is as important for us as developing our application. You can read here a short article by István Kollai about his experiences and findings in this topic.
Outdoor methods within the spectre of educational tools
“Teaching in the outdoors is both an art and a science” – says one comprehensive overview about the effort when educators try to bring their audience out of the buildings of the schooling system (Gilbertson et al, 2006, p. viii). Audience can mean, from this point of view, not just pupils but university students as well; moreover it includes visitors to museums and cultural institutions. In this way, outdoor educational techniques can be implemented in a great variety of ways, when personal experience and interaction with the subject can bolster the effectiveness of the way of learning. As Phyllis Ford put it in the guideline of US ministerial bodies: “The subject matter of outdoor education is a holistic combination of the interrelationships of all nature and the human being, attitudes for caring for the universe, and skills for utilising natural resources for human survival and for leisure pursuits.” (Ford, 1986).
Despite this potential colourfulness of subjects and topics filtered by outdoor techniques, outdoor education had dealt with primarily, and in many cases exclusively, environmental education and recreational activities. The cover of the book mentioned above also elucidates this monolithic dominance of environmental subjects, showing children in the forests, as the whole content of the publication picks concrete practices regarding the environmental theme. Again, in Phyllis Ford’s manual, cultural aspects appear only as a supplement to nature-oriented topics, like visiting abandoned sites of civilisation or earlier industrial sites, discovering tombstones or comparing original and invasive species. However, as places for outdoor education occur in urban and built sites, such as the concrete of the playground or an urban renewal project, urbanised or industrialised places provide in this context mainly a platform for presenting the fractured balance between humanity and nature (Ford, 1986). Going further, ‘wilderness’ is often said to be the prerequisite of outdoor education (Higgins, 2002). This work points to the leading role of outdoor education in the Scottish education system as a result of the great extent of wild places in Scotland. The case is the same in Canada (Henderson-Potter, 2001). The proposed synonyms also depict the perceived bounds of outdoor education with non-urban sites, such as environmental education, conservation education, resident outdoor school, outdoor pursuits, adventure education, experiential education and nature education (Ford, 1986).
Over decades, outdoor education has gained its reputation and infrastructure not just in the schooling system but in the academic sphere as well, having its own periodicals (Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning), international networks and conferences. Beside this globalisation of outdoor education, some geographical terrains and regions have remained dominant actors in it. And this bias is in relation with the nature-oriented utilisation of outdoor techniques. Australia proved to be a strong representative of outdoor education, due to the fact that people sought their source of organic identity through their own exploration of the land (Brookes, 2002). In this case, cultural aspects include reading of landscape as traces of inhabited places of aboriginal people (Stewart, 2008).
Another region with a strong outdoor philosophy is Scandinavia where an underlying principle of education is to find the way back to the open air as our home. In this model, nature is not just the subject of education but its framework and its background, a kind of replacement of classrooms. This attitude is called the friluftsliv tradition in Norway (Henderson-Potter, 2001), meaning ‘living in the free air’. Besides Norway and Sweden, Finland also has a long tradition of outdoor education, building it into the curriculum. The slogan of ‘friluftsliv’ has already spread through the global educational literature, improving the high reputation of Scandinavian schooling systems from the beginning.
Although the slogan of outdoor education has conquered the world, the formal recognition of its importance has not been coupled with practical popularity. This uneven situation is rooted partly in the difficulties of how to implement outdoor classes in official curricula. Teachers’ commitment toward organising outdoor sessions has not proved to be sufficient, since they typically need more time than the regular 45- or 90-minute-long teaching periods. So, primary and secondary schools or higher educational institutions have to be committed at an institutional level which is the case in the friluftsliv-countries, organising, for example, one outdoor schooling day in every second week. In universities, the technique of ‘intensive weeks’ has been spreading which breaks the regular rhythm of the semester with, for example, day-long field trips.
Can IT solutions broaden the subjects of outdoor education?
Another challenge of outdoor education has proved to be that it needs a special learning agenda (texts and publications), since traditional learning materials are not optimised for it. This special prerequisite needs more preparation time on the part of educators, which makes outdoor classes more difficult, at least compared to indoor classes. This challenge causes the dominance of non-text-based subjects in outdoor environments (physical or environmental education). The lack of curriculum-based social subjects and humanities has become an issue within the discourse about outdoor education. Several research projects pointed out this under-represented situation and called for defining outdoor education as a platform not just for natural sciences, but for geography, history and anthropology as well (Lai et al., 2013).
We cannot speak about the total lack of urban and social studies or humanities within outdoor education. ‘Cultural heritage’, as a topic of outdoor education has already appeared in the literature (Knudson et. al., 1999). The list of adventure programming has already contained the urban setting as well (Miles-Priest, 1999). But urban space has typically appeared just as a replacement of nature, where the same form of environmental education has to be imitated, and where the urban horizon is just a barrier to be solved (Beedie, 1999). The Praeger Handbook of Urban Education has the same logical structure as well.
The hypothesis of this paper is that, despite the lack of urban heritage subjects in the general literature of outdoor education, existing and developed methods – functioning primarily in environmental education – can be implemented in urban spaces as well, optimising them for heritage. For instance, such underlying principles as ‘ the dynamic education environment’, ‘contextual experience’ or ‘mapping’ have to be considered as a basis for material development (Lai et al., 2013). This hypothesis is presented – and will be tested in practice – with a mobile application called Peripatos, developed by the author of this paper and serving as a tool for outdoor education.
IT solutions are present throughout the whole scene of education. A specific infrastructure has been developed for researching ITsolutions in the schooling system (British Journal of Educational Technology), and there is already an academic consensus that time- and space-related limitations can be bridged by IT techniques (Lai et al, 2013). The development of IT-inspired adaptive technologies goes hand in hand with the growing popularity of gamification and edutainment. Even Pokémon Go inspired researchers to use this mobile game for teaching mathematics and social science: ‘this mobile, game-based educational setting seemed to encourage students to engage in collaborative learning. … The conclusion is rather that location-based games have the potential to vitalise formal education, provided that they are carefully integrated into the curriculum’ (Mozelius et al, 2017). Nevertheless, the confluence of outdoor education and IT techniques has lagged behind, and this shortfall would be diminished by such applications like Peripatos.
Peripatos – Can the urban space be changed into an outdoor classroom?
Peripatos is a geo-located (GPS-based) smartphone application which leads the audience through a walk where the application guides them where to go, what task to do or what to look for at the next step. The smartphone not only navigates but also tells the audience stories at certain points or poses questions or gives them tasks. In this way, students take part in a kind of ‘pedestrian class’, and learn while walking. The walk has its stopping points, which must be visited in the correct order. The smartphone indicates arrival at the stations using GPS coordinates and tells stories, gives tasks or asks questions about the landscape or places that can be seen from the point. These stories can be read on the phone’s display or audio played via a headset. The smartphone may give navigational instructions between stopping points. The development idea is based on the following principles:
- The smartphone is an extremely useful source of information and a communication platform but it is the responsibility of the community of today’s developers to avoid the risk of ‘digital fragmentation’ (Patrick-Weber, 2014). This means that, due to the enthusiastic, frequent and widespread use of the phone, the users’ attention will be dispersed and scattered, the skill of single-minded concentration will be weakened. A Smartphone needs smart usage – which is not different from other digital or electronic devices. Therefore, the ‘education industry’ and the sphere of edutainment has to produce coherent educational or information platforms. Peripatos sets out to contain whole tours and not just mosaics of knowledge, a kind of uneven mixture of information and entertainment.
- Outdoor education, as was highlighted above, needs special preparation of training materials. In the usage of Peripatos, training material means the content of educational routes whose development is open to the educators. A special feature of the application is its editor functions – through the login of educators – which can be handed over to teachers, cultural or educational institutes or museums. Tutors can launch new tours, adding contents and GPS-coordinates. Editorial access to educators can be used to expand elements of completed walks and by translating the coordinates of existing elements to create a walk that starts from your own school or ‘plays’ in the user’s own city.
- In the utilisation of smartphones, the use of audio features is somewhat behind visual communication (displaying written text), but this territory has been developing extremely rapidly. This means that the text material, knowledge and questions are not only written in the Peripatos but also read out loud. For this reason, the development intends to use the rapidly developing world of text-to-speech techniques. Text-to-speech software makes it possible for the phone user to keep track of the device display.
- Interactive items should become an integral part of outdoor educational methods and these can be realised through IT applications like Peripatos. Peripatos offers not just stories about ‘points of interest’ but tasks or quiz questions can also be put into the content development system.
- Last but not least, educators and educational developers can monitor whether their students have participated in the walking classes under their own initiative and whether or not they have passed the specified points of interest.
Peripatos was launched by the author of this paper, inspired primarily by such varied and specifically-issued (printed) guides which offer the readers different routes within Budapest and interpret the multi-ethnic heritage of this and other cities through several ‘ethnic walks’, such as the ‘German walk in Budapest’, the ‘Slovak walk in Budapest’ and so on (Kollai-Zahorán, 2011). The original aim was to create an IT platform which makes the interpretation of this multi-ethnic heritage more flexible and interactive. Currently, the development of Peripatos has been bolstered by market-based products (contracts) such as the request of Central and Eastern European academic institutes to develop educational tours about Communism and the cultural resistance against it in the capital cities of the Eastern bloc. This academic network ran a Horizon2020 project whose abbreviated title was ‘Courage.; these new Peripatos-tours will provide the application’s team with international validation.
The presentation of Peripatos in Kőszeg in March 2018 was an important milestone. During the workshop, a specific Peripatos tour was created about the city in association with participants; in effect, the urban horizon of Kőszeg served as a platform for speaking about the main epochs of European cultural history, about the birth and development of European cities and citizens and about inter-ethnic coexistence in Europe. The participants in the workshop were free to suggest general stories about European cultural history which have their ties with the Hungarian town as well. (As an inspiration, see Simms-Clarke, 2015). For instance, the synagogue in Kőszeg can evoke the Jewish heritage of Europe, the many church towers can constitute the memory not just of Christianity but of how tower bells and clocks replaced natural occurrences for scheduling the time of the working day and adapted the daily routine. Reminiscences of town walls can remind visitors of the defensive function of medieval cities which have gradually lost this role. The walls became redundant and as a final act in European cultural history, they provided routes for city circuits and boulevards. In this way, a European heritage tour in Kőszeg was built up based on our general knowledge about cultural history and what the city evoked and resembled in our mind.
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