We often hear about the conflict between technology and nature; with more young people than ever becoming disengaged from the natural world and ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder’ (Louv, 2005) becoming ever more common as young people increasingly choose to spend their free time using technology rather than playing outside. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) currently engages with 30,000 people a year through our formal and informal education programmes, and we are looking at the ways we can embrace technology in our Discovery and Learning department to engage our learners more with wildlife, the landscape and our key conservation education messages. Whilst technology is typically seen as conflicting with nature, we believe that education technologies ‘can enhance our programs, create interest, and have the potential to attract people who may not have previously expressed interest in conservation.’ (Jacobson et al, 2015).
Through raising awareness and skills across the whole organisation, RZSS aim to combine technology and nature to engage typically hard-to-reach learners through the use of virtual field trips and online learning, and to take audiences to places they cannot usually experience through the use of immersive or simulated learning spaces, and to encourage them to move from empathy to action.
Participants in this session will gain an insight into how RZSS is embracing Learning Technology and is the first such institution in the country to undertake a review of how we integrate it throughout our entire educational remit. We will look at some of the learning spaces, teaching sessions and assessment methods we have designed to achieve increased engagement, accessibility and long-term relationships with our learners, improve skills inside and outside the organisation, and most importantly convey our conservation message to our audiences.
Session content: evaluation and reflection
Conservation education has always involved using real world issues and scenarios, but through the use of technology we believe ‘it is possible to explore them in ways that make the experience more authentic’ (Brewer, 2003). The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is therefore looking at how we can evaluate the effectiveness of both our education sessions and learning spaces without the need for formal assessments which would impact on the experience of a day out at Edinburgh Zoo or the Highland Wildlife Park.
To achieve this, we are implementing learning analytics throughout our online platforms in a variety of ways including SCORM and xAPI to understand which methods of delivery are the most successful. We are also working with academic and industry partners to look at using technology in several different ‘stealth’ methods of assessment by embedding assessments ‘seamlessly into a computer-based learning or gaming environment such that the learner is unaware he or she being assessed’. (Wang et al, 2015). These new approaches to conservation education and analysis of them will hopefully serve to increase longer term relationships with the schools and learners who use our education services and better retention of key conservation actions.
This session comes under the wildcard theme and will examine the ways in which careful implementation and evaluation of learning technologies can be implemented to successfully combine nature and technology to ‘dramatically increase the number of people we reach with conservation messages, and also allow audiences to vicariously experience natural events and places they might never see in person.’ (Jacobson et al, 2015).
We will use this session to demonstrate some of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s new teaching methods, to explain the ways we are currently implementing assessment of our education sessions, and to share our initial findings on the performance of such ‘stealth’ methods.
Brewer, C. (2003). Computers in the Classroom: How Information Technology Can Improve Conservation Education.
Jacobson, S., McDuff, M., and Monroe, M. (2015). Conservation Education and Outreach Techniques.
Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Wang, L., Shute, V. and Moore, G. (2015). Lessons Learned and Best Practices of Stealth Assessment.