Making digital compost: place-responsive pedagogy at a distance
University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
place, distance education, mobilities, education for sustainable development, storytelling
Students studying at a distance are situated at a location remote from the campus, connecting to the institution via learning networks such as virtual learning environments, and communicating through a range of synchronous and asynchronous tools. While students may perceive a link between their physical learning environment and the institutional campus, their physical location may not be explicitly acknowledged or included in the learning activities of distance programmes beyond opportunities to participate in summer schools.
As place is defined as a location which has meaning for an individual, I propose that further research is required to explore the role that these meaningful locations can play in the learning experience of students studying at a distance from the institution. I question whether it is possible to develop a form of emotional connection to place at a distance, through artefacts and stories shared digitally by someone who feels closely connected, or related, to a place. I consider what the benefits may be of developing a more place-aware approach to teaching and learning in this context.
This paper outlines the early stages of a PhD research project investigating the importance of place for distance learners studying online. I will briefly describe methods previously used in outdoor education which may provide a way of capturing a sense of place at a distance. These methods include storytelling and walking interviews, with both options making use of mobile technologies. The use of these methods may also foster a stronger connection between students, the locality where they are based while studying, and the institution. Through this process, it may help to reduce the sense of social distance which can affect students studying at distance.
Incorporating activities traditionally used in conservation and outdoor education may demonstrate how education for sustainable development principles and practices can be integrated into distance education. If successful, this may help to address the missing element of teaching "in" the environment, providing a route to facilitate experiential place-based learning for distance students. This may also encourage a sense of care for the environment, as part of an affective approach to learning.
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