Facilitating ESD in schools through the use of ICT and GIS technologies

Experiences of a pilot project from India

Shefali Atrey, Aradhana Singh and Shivani Jain, CEE

The Premise
Constructivism states that learning is an active and contextualized process of constructing knowledge based on ones own experiences, rather than acquiring it from someone else.
Knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and hypotheses of the environment. Learners continuously test these hypotheses through social negotiation and each learner arrives
at a different interpretation and construction of knowledge process.

Self-constructed and validated knowledge leads to better and life-long learning. In the classroom, the constructivist view of learning can be brought about by a number of different teaching practices. In pedagogical sense, it would mean encouraging students to use active techniques (experiments; data analysis and interpretation; real-world problem solving, etc.) to create their own world-view based on their own experiences and then to reflect on and talk about what they are doing and how their understanding is changing.

The teachers’ role in such situation becomes that of a facilitator, providing learners the appropriate experiences and guiding them through these experiences and helping them then build on them. ESD is about helping learners become global citizens with critical thinking skills; sensitivities and respect for the natural environment; and pragmatism towards the socioeconomic environment.

This article presents an experiment in exploring the effectiveness of ICT and GIS enabled teaching-learning techniques in providing learning environment in school classrooms which is congenial for self-realized and self-constructed learning, and which eventually supports realizing the mission of education for sustainable development in formal education.

CEE ka Biscope
An experiment on ICT-GIS and ESD

In January 2009, Centre for Environment Education (CEE) initiated to venture in the field of direct application of ICT tools in supporting the school curriculum. The programme called CEE ka Biscope is an educational module meant for students in the age group of 10-16 years. Practice-based learning for interpreting the local environment and surroundings is integral to the philosophy
of this module. The module involves interaction of students with maps, satellite imageries and several computer enabled data interpretation applications, appropriately combined with several other teaching techniques including field trips, classroom sessions, games and activities.

Since the activities are based on school syllabus and text-books, CEE ka Biscope further facilitates the use of internet enabled computer labs at the schools towards meeting up learning goals in
several subjects. With focus on learning for life, the activities of the module help integration of Environmental Studies, Science, Mathematics as well as Social Sciences.

The Pilot Project
From knowledge to attitudes

The pilot project is being carried out in a city-based school in Ahmedabad, Gujarat India with about 90 children (45 at a time) in each of the two grades—grade VII and grade VIII.

The hypothesis of the pilot work is that use of ICT in school education will not only lead to inculcation of latest technologies in teaching-learning schools, but will ensure learner centered, real-life based, experiential learning. It is hoped, that such learning environment, eventually over a period of time, will impact the psycho-affective domain of the learner facilitating a positive attitudinal and behavioural change in them.

The whole idea of using ICT (including the GIS) revolves around the efforts to present real-life based information on the students’ immediate local environment through a medium that this generation children is very familiar with, but mainly for nonacademic interaction and processes.

Project Methodology
Experimenting two ways of integrating ICT in the school’s plan

With the two grades (VII and VIII), two different approaches of integrating use of ICT and GIS in the school curriculum, are being followed. With one of the standards the project has tried to follow the teaching-learning calendar, as planned by the subject teachers (science and social science) at the beginning of the school academic year. This approach has required immense cooperation from various subject teachers as the project team did not restrict itself to any specific teaching-learning theme. Numerous ways of using ICT and GIS expertise with the preplanned calendar have already been invented.

The pilot project, through this approach has led to creation of innovative applications of ICT in supporting teaching-learning of several subjects, including Mathematics, Science, History, Geography and Environmental studies. It was exciting to learn from and note the learners’ responses to such an experience.

Pic courtsey: Shefali Atrey
CEE Students exploring mapping software in school computer lab as a part of an interactive activity on agriculture

Ravi Panchal, CEE
A session on ocean water movement, global warming and climate change with help of interactive maps in progress

Overall, the learners found innovative use of ICT and GIS very refreshing for them as they experienced a very novel way in which a subject was being introduced to them and they found the
learning process very real-life based. With the higher standard, the project team experimented by using ICT and GIS applications for an identified theme-based module. Of course the them
selected was taken from the syllabus of the school.

This module of 14 sessions (of 80 minutes each) spread over a period of 7 months focused on the theme of ‘Agriculture’ (a part of both Sciences as well as Geography of Grade VIII) was planned in discussion with the learners as well as their teachers. The feedback from learners shows that they re-discovered the science and art of agriculture in a manner which was very different from what was provided in their text-books and discussed in their regular classrooms. During this module, along with the theorybased sessions there were practical sessions, conducted in computer labs where students made use of global mapping tools, animations and various ways to interpret and analyze a given set of data. A field trip was conducted for students which made them interact with a community of farmers—from rich farmers to land labourers. Here ICT and GIS were used as interpretation tools that helped students in establishing relation between social, economic and environmental aspects of Agriculture, the major economic activity of their country.

Emerging Trends from the Pilot

The pilot project is still on and formulative feedback from learners and their teachers has been encouraging for the project team as well as the school; the trends emerging out of the feedback received so far, are also supportive of the pilot project hypothesis.

During the last 4 months of this pilot project, most students seemed to have enhanced their analytical, interpretation as well as visualization skills. Such skills and direct interaction and interpretation of local environment-based data have provided the learners a justified reasoning to take action towards conserving and appreciating their surroundings. Besides this, the project has also encouraged peer-based learning processes in the classrooms.

The use of ICT has enabled to turn the local- environment related information into knowledge for the learners, which in turn is hoped to bring an attitudinal change in them towards their immediate environment. CEE ka Biscope has been a learning experience for the project team to explore and experiment with the use of modern ICT advancements in creating a learning environment which supports the learners in facilitating their own learning process through exploration, discovery and real-life based data analysis and interpretation.

This article first appeared ‘Education and Sustainability’ Journal, Number 2, February 2010.

For more information contact:

Shivani Jain
Centre for Environment Education,
Thaltej Tekra, Ahmedabad–380054
Ph: 079-26858002 to 9 Fax: 079–26858010

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