Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: May 2016

Tuesday GEEP

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Today is the last day of the GEEP meeting in Bristol, and we probably all felt that some progress was made yesterday in setting goals and reaching an understanding of what it's possible to achieve.

Looking at it from an external perspective I reckon that the following might be on offer to anyone joining in:

  • knowing more about what others elsewhere in the world do
  • making new contacts with like-minded groups in other countries
  • having the opportunity to share with others across the world what 'we do'
  • forming constructive partnerships with others

Given how difficult it has been, over time, to build international links, this is encouraging.

 

GEEPing Today

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I'm spending today – a UK holiday – bunkered with environmental educators from across the globe at a GEEP executive / steering committee meeting in Bristol.

We're talking about GEEP's goals, objectives, etc – again.  I had to remind myself that I wrote this last October:

"The first GEEP day ended with delegates still searching for some illusive final clarity about goals, objectives and strategies.  It's still not clear whether GEEP does things, or (just) enables others to do things.  Rather inevitably, with so many people from different countries, and a good mix of organisational types represented, there were many perspectives about both the problems to be addressed, and how to do this.  We did one of those deliberative exercises with group work, flip charts and sticker dots to identify priorities, and the core team will be thinking about all this before we meet again on Thursday when they will tell us what we've decided."

Still muddling, then; and not yet through.

 

Learning outside the classroom in local natural environments

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading a draft of the Natural Connections Final Report which is a whopping 91 pages – almost as long as the evaluation proforma that Natural England suggested I use to provide my comments on the draft.  Needless to say, I should not really comment on what I've seen as it's only a draft and, like fate, is amenable to change.  Well, I hope it is.

Helpfully, though whether this was deliberate or not is unclear, the draft that was circulated contained embedded comments by reviewers.  Some of these were just as interesting as the report.

One of them – it will hardly be a surprise to anyone – was about nomenclature; that is, whether "LINE" would be meaningful to anyone outwith the cognoscenti.  I'd say the answer's obvious.  Would "outdoor learning" be better, someone wondered.  Well, maybe!  I've tried this jargon on some of those mercifully not corralled in 'the field' and they all asked me whether it was being outside that really mattered, or was it what you learned, or did it depend on how natural the natural environment was, or was it pedagogy that really mattered.   And there's the rub, as no one can ever decide.  It's hardly surprising as the phrase "learning outside the classroom in local natural environments" covers such a huge range of activities – including, presumably, sitting in a garden whilst being indoctrinated.  Can you become a more effective terrorist by learning outside or inside?  Does anyone know?  Not that it matters.

I also wondered whether the report was trying to reach too many audiences.  I felt it might be hard going for anyone who wants to cut to the chase and identify the nuggets that might improve practice and organisation – if there are any.  These seem to be buried inside a technical report in which a lot of space is taken by explaining and justifying what Natural Connections did / didn’t do.   I found this tedious.  Even the executive summary is 7 pages long and itself could do with a summary with practice in mind.  I'm told this is in hand.

The final report will be published to coincide with the Natural Connections launch on the 14th July.  I'm not going to this as I have no faith in NC's ability to organise a meeting effectively.  Anyway, I've already taken up too much space in this blog complaining about past efforts – and there's always my blood pressure to think about.  A day of calm on the Wiltshire Downs suggests itself as an alternative.  See you there, maybe.

 

The coming together of NAAEE and NAEE

📥  Comment, New Publications

This is the text of a guest blog that I have contributed to NAAEE's eePRO website in advance of a GEEP steering committee next week.  You can read it on line here, where you will find links to the wider eePRO content.

Between them, North America’s NAAEE and the UK’s NAEE have been in existence for over 100 years, and so it’s good (not before time, some would say) that we have finally managed to organise a joint meeting.  I know that this is only for 2 hours at the end of a long day, and it’s officially a ‘reception’, but it’s the thought that matters.  Another view is that a first meeting over a glass of something chilled and a few canapés is a sure way to start an association that might blossom.

This first meeting is possible because the international steering committee of the Global Environmental Education Partnership [GEEP] is meeting in Bristol in the west of England, which is a better place than many when you’re drawing people from Botswana, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Taiwan, the UAE, the UK and the USA.  And the city of Bristol is more appropriate than most UK cities because of its cultural, industrial and natural heritage, and because of its long-standing links with North America.  These are numerous, ranging from the momentous voyage of John Cabot’s ship, The Matthew, from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497, to the less than glorious association of the city with the slave trade from 1698 to 1807, when great fortunes were made and much misery was assured.

On a much happier note, what makes Bristol really appropriate for a UK meeting of GEEP, and the coming together of NAAEE and NAEE, is that the city was the 2015 European Green Capital.  This was something that galvanised huge amounts of activity across the whole life of the city, from the community, business, schools, universities and government.  A legacy of this is the Bristol Green Capital Partnership whose aim is to make Bristol “a low carbon city with a high quality of life for all”.  Those attending the reception next Tuesday will come from groups in and around the city with an interest in environmental / sustainability education, which was something that was an important aspect of all that Green Capital creative endeavour and activity.

Everyone here is looking forward to it, and to hearing all about GEEP, and I’ll be blogging again after the event.  Meanwhile, if you’re curious about what NAEE gets up to ‘over there’, do have a look at our website: www.naee.org.uk where you’ll find, amongst interesting things about EE in the UK, back copies of our unique practitioner journal, Environmental Education.  The latest edition of this, with its focus on a changing climate, will be launched at the reception.

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The OECE strides into a quagmire

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The OECD's education director, Andreas Schleicher, has written an article for the BBC about his brave 'n' bold plans to have a focus on "global competence" in forthcoming PISA exams.  Good luck, I thought when I read it.  This is a lot more difficult than testing math(s), but it's not clear that Schleicher understand this.  The clue is in the definition:

Global Competence:

"The capacity to analyse global and intercultural issues critically and from multiple perspectives, to understand how differences affect perceptions, judgements, and ideas of self and others, and to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with others from different backgrounds on the basis of a shared respect for human dignity".

Schleicher says:

"[education is] about making sure that children develop a reliable compass, the navigation skills and the character qualities that will help them find their own way through an uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world.  Schools need to prepare students for a world where many will need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins.  They will need to appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values.  It's a world in which people need to decide how to trust and collaborate across differences.  Schools can provide opportunities for young people to learn about global development, equip them with the means of accessing and analysing different cultures, help students engage in international and intercultural relations, and foster the value of the diversity of people.

That's as may be, and as Schleicher says, there's a lot of this already going on in schools.  But that does not mean it can, or should, be tested.  It is clear from the OECD's own definition of global competence (above) that this is something that can only be developed over time, and through practice in real-life contexts.  It also seems a possibility that, in order to get the right answers – unlike in math(s) – young people will have to align themselves to OECD's values, which won't be universally popular.  My prediction is that these tests will not see the light of day.

 

GEEP, GEEP, geep and geep

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I've decided to collect GEEPs.  So far, I have four.

You might recall that I wrote about the international one last year when I attended a meeting in San Diego.  The Global Environmental Education Partnership [GEEP] is coming to the UK this weekend for a steering committee and no doubt I'll have something to say about that.

More locally, there's the Gloucestershire Environmental Education Partnership [GEEP] which works with the Gloucestershire Healthy Living and Learning [GHLL].

And there's a new Irish geep, as the BBC informed us a little while ago.  This poor creature is a goat / sheep hybrid which has done well even to be born alive, judging by past experience.  Inevitably, it has its own YouTube video, and is more photogenic than anyone I know in either GEEP or GEEP.  Not everyone is convinced it's real, however.  NB, if we're getting technical here, the geep is different from a goat-sheep chimera.

Then there's geep: global electric electronic processing which "is a growing company with a professional team committed to sustainability that works hard to consistently exceed its customers’ expectations – one piece of electronics at a time."  I've no idea what this means, but it's in there, and, uniquely, it has a geepstore.

 

Compensation for VCs

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Times Higher has a feature this week on VC pay, or "compensation package" as we're being encouraged to call it.  Here's the THE:

"Vice-chancellors have again come in for flak over what they are paid.  We look at how their compensation packages compare with those of their international peers"

The article is here.

Compensation for what, you have to wonder.  For the inconvenience of having their precious time taken up by having to go to work, presumably.  How language corrupts our ideas.

 

The nature of Nature

📥  Comment, New Publications

Thanks to the SEEd / NAEE blogs for alerting me to  recent paper in The Conservation by Hannah Pitt, Research Associate at Cardiff, comments on research by Natural England on the extent to which youth is ‘engaging with nature’.

I’ve been commenting on this research for a while now through an internal support / reference group, and some of the points Pitt makes are familiar to me: for example, the broad definition of ‘natural environment’ (an urban outdoor exercise area counts as much as a nature reserve, even though the amount of ’nature’ in them might be quite different).  Pitt notes that the often relatively wildlife-rich back garden doesn’t count in all this as spending time there is not seen as being away from the house, which is seen as important by those who count such things.

The best point that Pitt makes (for me) is to point to the importance of focusing on what youth (and everybody else for that matter) does when it is in nature, as opposed just being pleased that they are out there.  She says,

"Rather than thinking of all places with a good amount of greenery as natural and therefore beneficial, we need to distinguish which features and characteristics can have positive effects.  By understanding this it becomes possible to plan environments which support positive, healthy engagement. … what one does when outdoors is as significant in terms of well-being as the very fact of getting out and among the plants.”

Just so, even if you do very little, as sometimes being is as good as doing – as Wordsworth knew.

Pitt mentions research that suggests that different cultural groups have varied motivations for spending time outdoors, and that there is more to learn here.  I’m sure that this is right, but might it also be the case that differences within groups are now becoming as great as those between them?  Does anyone know?

 

Liberate your degree

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Rather inevitably, perhaps, since my post on Wednesday following my meeting at the NUS, I've been reading around the notion of a "liberated and sustainable curriculum".  Here's something of what NUS has to say about it:

Universities rely on rigid curricula and assessment methods that privilege some groups while systematically shutting out those most marginalised from succeeding in education: women, working class, disabled, LGBT+, Black students and those with caring responsibilities.

In 2013, 16 per cent more white British students graduated with a first or 2:1 degree than UK domiciled Black students (ECU, 2014). Research conducted by NUS (Race for Equality, 2011) and the HEA (2012) on the attainment gap and retention of Black students highlights the need for representative curricula and diversifying assessment practices.

Black students are over-represented in HE institutions in relation to the general population, yet vastly under-represented in the curricula and within academic ranks.

For the past few years NUS has made huge and significant progress in bringing those issues to the forefront of the national agenda in education and working with the government and sector bodies on strategic approaches to be disseminated. Only in the last year, NUS has made significant progress with the Office For Fair Access and HEFCE on prioritising solutions to attainment gaps at national level and embedding measures in access agreements as well as with BIS on addressing the gaps at postgraduate level.

Now it’s time for us to co-ordinate the empowerment of students’ unions to push for change and challenge issues on the ground through the students who are affected, and do this collectively. It’s time for our institutions to listen to their students.

The NUS Liberate My Degree campaign has begun as a collaboration between the NUS Black Students’ Campaign and the HE Zone, which aims to empower student reps from academic and liberation groups with the tools to transform and decolonise education so that it is more representative of the diverse student body, as well as amplifying local campaigns and initiatives to liberate education to a national level.

This hub is a repository of resources for students’ unions to use for bringing their students, course reps and liberation groups together to discuss specific approaches to campaigning to dismantle the Eurocentric education system and develop institutional strategies that suit them. 

To begin with we will be exploring the following:

  • briefings on access for different liberation groups
  • approaches to tackling the Black attainment gap
  • students and staff co-designing curricula
  • student-led alternative education spaces
  • student involvement in developing alternative assessments which test a wide range of skills (coming soon)

The hub is in continual development and will expand through future collaborations with the other NUS Liberation campaigns.  We are also collecting case studies of local campaigns to showcase on the hub so do get in touch with details about your campaign!

For workshops and presentations at your union please contact the officers - and also get in touch to let us know what you’d find useful as a resource!

#LiberateMyDegree

Malia Bouattia, NUS Black Students’ Officer
Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President (Higher Education)

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I'm not sure I'm much the wiser after all this, although I should say that I found the contrast between the breadth of the opening paragraph, and the narrowness of what followed, quite instructive.  There is, of course, a hierarchy of disadvantage, and I searched in vain for the identity of the NUS Male Working Class Students Officer – whoever she is.

NB, Ms Bouattia is now the NUS President elect.  Expect more on all this.