EnviWiki – the Czech Multimedia Toolkit for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (reviewed text)

Jana Dlouhá

EnviWiki, The educational encyclopaedia for ESD literacy has been selected to be part of the EC DG EAC Inventory of innovative good practice on education for sustainable development.


The main purpose of the Inventory is to show concrete examples which have been implemented in the Member States under the concept of ESD in formal and non-formal learning contexts and which are at the forefront as regards innovative approaches. Projects/programmes selected as innovative good practice will be used to inform the preparation of the next Progress Report on the EU Sustainable Development Strategy in Education. See European Commission DG Education and Culture Inventory of innovative practices in education for sustainable development, the case study EnviWiki - Environmental Literacy for Teachers (CZECH REPUBLIC), page 51.

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EnviWiki – the Czech Multimedia Toolkit for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (reviewed text)

2008-07-26 11:15:23

EnviWiki, The educational encyclopaedia for ESD literacy has been selected to be part of the EC DG EAC Inventory of innovative good practice on education for sustainable development.

The main purpose of the Inventory is to show concrete examples which have been implemented in the Member States under the concept of ESD in formal and non-formal learning contexts and which are at the forefront as regards innovative approaches. Projects/programmes selected as innovative good practice will be used to inform the preparation of the next Progress Report on the EU Sustainable Development Strategy in Education. See European Commission DG Education and Culture Inventory of innovative practices in education for sustainable development, the case study EnviWiki - Environmental Literacy for Teachers (CZECH REPUBLIC), page 51.

Introduction

Recent debates on education for sustainable development suggest a paradigm shift, exploration of which is just beginning. Discussions are often concerned with how differing curricular elements could be combined; they focus on frames, construction of knowledge structures, and “critical curriculum” development based on deconstruction of a dominant social paradigm. There are signs that knowledge gained and knowledge used (in socially relevant frames) differ in nature and character (knowledge “in action” requires situational understanding that is more dependent on circumstances of action than abstract theories learnt beforehand) (Barbiero, 2004). Transformations are experienced also in the field of science, as is documented by the newly emerging “post-normal science” (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 2002) or “sustainability science” (Bolin, 2000).

Educational toolkits that provide systematic ground for environmental and SD studies have to be designed only in a dialogue between different “language games”. Environmental knowledge is defined very broadly, for example as following themes: nature, impact of human activities, conflict resolution and other practical policy-relevant information. Seven knowledge areas have been outlined: climate, soil, rocks and minerals, water, materials and resources including energy, plants and animals, human beings and their societies, technology and the world of work (Palmer, 1998). Environmental and SD aspects related to the complex and contextual character of reality can be an agent of change in the use of knowledge sets in educational systems.

Educational toolkit for ESD – theoretical background

Text materials for systematic environmental and sustainable development studies are still of crucial importance. Electronic textbooks are still focused on knowledge management, in this respect it does not differ from classical models. But the structure of the texts should reflect the complexity of the contemporary world. Thus, environmental and SD perspective provides extra quality which is defined as follows:

  • First of all, a “holistic” view is stressed which is a horizon of understanding, or more precisely, variable perspectives from different horizons on the background of which concrete realities become understandable.
  • In a multidimensional approach, attention should be focused on exploration of interrelationships: a non-linear reading of the reality. Complex phenomena are described in this way; causality is not necessarily highlighted in mutual dependencies.
  • Requirements posed on knowledge sets or structures do not involve disciplinary organization into specific and distinct “subjects”. Interdisciplinary approaches have to be involved with regard to the complex character of environmental problems.
  • On the other hand, disciplinary discourses could not be ignored or substituted as they represent the epistemological space for knowledge generation. Also, these discourses participate in the “language games” that guarantee diversity of views and make “unification of worldviews” impossible.
  • New textbooks should not be a “heap” of separate information. On the other hand, in search for universalistic perspective, unity should not be grounded by incompatible methods of inquiry or merged in illegitimate frames.
  • Unlike the “atomistic” philosophy of knowledge units that is followed by cumulative learning strategies, the contextual character of reality could be stressed through nets of interdependencies.
  • In a more active approach, relations could be not only observed but also (re)constructed on the meta-cognitive level as concepts and frames for value-driven observations. This path is taken in “critical curriculum” building.
  • Language games should be respected as universal meaning is not produced in derived (meta-cognitive) concepts and frames – they provide temporally and spatially restricted contexts. Diversity of discourses is one of the inevitable requirements posed on alternative curriculum building (Keulartz, 2005).
  • Finally, a notion of sustainability as a regulative idea in the sense of Kant’s epistemological construct (Rauch, 2004) should be regarded. Frameworks could not claim to be of a normative nature, environmental literacy should not be conceived as a process of “imprinting” consistent axioms, or designing of rigid knowledge sets that suggest universal value frames. We should realize that all appropriate answers differ significantly in various cultural contexts and with regard to experiences gained.

Mapping and management of environment-related knowledge would most appropriately involve electronic teaching materials. The amount of information available on the Internet is enormous and ever-growing – it could be used, combined and structured creatively.

A Czech project on SD literacy – EnviWiki

The aim of ESD project under Czech conditions was to design a toolkit for university teachers, students of pedagogical faculties enrolled in programs for upper primary and secondary grades, and for involved/interested general public.

The electronic medium was selected because of its ability to interconnect remote knowledge areas into a network of interrelationships, and to endorse the mutual dependencies among them. Additionally, the access to the various information sources is simplified via search engines enabling to reach and review selected areas. All of that facilitates an individual path of information enquiry and utilization – e.g. selection of the knowledge needed as a tool for planned activities, relevant for a specific purpose etc. Also up-to-date information on international events is easily accessible, as are most recent scientific results. Thus, an opportunity to enter an expert dialogue is provided.

Formally, the MediaWiki software was selected for the electronic textbook, as it provides a user-friendly medium not only for information searches but also for its updating and amendment. Active work on discrete issues is supported by editing of basic texts and by their enrichment, a possibility to solve practical problems is opened through access to required information and existing databases that are linked to the texts etc. There is a space for exchange of theoretical knowledge and experience with good practice among teachers. Discussion forums provide an opportunity for scientific dialogue as well. Most important is the possibility of continual updating –due to it, an electronic medium is at the same time an effective mechanism for the transfer of research results to pedagogical practice.

In the first phase it was important to find a convenient systemic approach, a simple structure of information, and use an advanced software solution. Information sources can serve for orientation in complex issues and their interconnection can set up an understanding of important dependencies, but it is necessary to create a simple basic structure, and to reduce the main environmental themes to a narrow structure. At the same time, the possibility for further accumulation of information should be opened, including its continual development and deepening. As the amount of available information about each environmental theme is incredible (within the internet), basic principles and topics were selected for each area. These topics could be used for further extension of the teaching material. The perspective of disciplinary discourses was not skipped, but the individual themes were structured within different and variable frames (interconnected with links, used in different units etc.).

The formal shape

To fulfill demands posed on teaching materials, texts were structured into several areas, modules, themes and related chapters. Each theme or chapter consists of an introductory section, which highlights basic principles, provides an understandable entry to the area of expertise suitable to non-specialists. This introductory part is followed by a list of the pedagogical targets, or definitions of basic concepts and explanatory notes. Most important are the reviewed sources of literature and other links that provide additional perspectives and sometimes replace original texts (it is not necessary to re-invent the wheel). By taking advantage of the existing links, anybody is free to develop the textbook independently in the future.

Basic structure of the texts – areas, modules, themes and related chapters are presented in following configuration:

  • introduction – highlights basic principles (suitable to non-specialists)
  • definitions of background concepts and explanatory notes
  • list of the pedagogical targets
  • sub-themes, topics for further extension
  • reference list
  • available resources (other links) – replace original texts where necessary

Multi-layer distribution of texts enables publishing in a form suitable for e-learning. It was not desirable to include long sections, instead, the possibility of the additional information embraced by means of internal links was used (the derived levels often being more specialized). Selection among the “width” and “depth” of a given problem description was solved as “three-dimensional” thanks to the electronic medium– basic levels are covering very wide areas, and a concept of knowledge deepening is used on the lower levels of hierarchy.

For copyright purposes, the GNU Free Documentation License was used. The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other functional and useful document “free” in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or non-commercially. Secondarily, this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others.

Benefits of EnviWiki for practical use

The electronic teaching toolkit created (available at http://www.enviwiki.cz) is presented in the form of an interactive website. It provides a possibility for further development of the text by users, enables not only editing of probable inaccuracies, updating the themes with regard to the current state of knowledge, but also provides the possibility to include case-studies, examples for teaching or other results of work with students. In a user-friendly environment, the newly created pages are immediately published and displayed to a process of evaluation or editing by other users. The possibility to include discussion inputs and highlight controversial problems within discussion exists.

List of benefits includes:

  • Wiki is an interactive website: possibility of further development by users
  • participation in knowledge generation: active work on discrete issues (editing, updating, amendments)
  • access and search options: reliable data sources provided for practical problems’ solutions
  • constructivism: variable frames for different discourses could be developed (portals, categories,…)
  • expert dialogue and discussion inputs: relevant fora across disciplinary boundaries
  • development of critical thinking: use of multiple and diverse resources
  • up-to-date information:
    • scientific results
    • practical info – involvement of different stakeholders
    • national and international events etc.

Wikipedia software is extremely useful for educational purposes – students have not only a “reservoir” of easily accessible information for their different assignments and practical work, they can also contribute to this learning environment and thus feel to be a part of knowledge generation community. In this respect Wiki could contribute to:

  • students’ participation in creating educational resource web – they can amend:
    • internet links and available resources
    • short annotations, summaries of other materials, case studies
    • texts with some theoretical background (reviewed assignements)
  • opportunities for student-teacher/expert communication (discussion on the page)
  • team work, student-student interaction within work on the same or similar theme
  • decentralization: individual path of information enquiry and utilization
  • ICT literacy: is a byproduct of learning

The collective development principle of the Wikipedia has also been valued positively by the scientific community recently. Work with the EnviWiki teaching toolkit is based on an idea of constructivist pedagogy and meets the requirement for building of various competences.

Enviwiki in the process of education.

Enviwiki is a knowledge base easily accessible to all – it encourages orientation in complex problems, based on an understanding of main trends and factors. It is an interactive medium that could be amended by users. In this respect, it is extremely useful for educational strategies based on active learning and constructivist approaches.

Regular courses that are strictly connected to Enviwiki (as a resource and also environment for students’ creative contributions) were organized by Charles University Environment Centre in 2008 and are planned to be implemented regularly. Course PASDEL (PrActising Sustainable Development through E-Learning) is focused on practical problems of protecting the environment, and goal is to familiarize students with current praxis in the area of business, transport and green architecture. This course offers sources and information and the opportunity to contribute to and expand this knowledge base, by learning how to work with the environmental encyclopaedia, Enviwiki. The goal is to recognize basic tools for “greening” the selected thematic areas (business, transport, architecture), learn to conduct dialogue with various partners, encourage communication between participants in the electronic space, and also with the wider public.

“Philosophy” of e-learning

E-learning modules are based on cooperation of 2 electronic environments. In a Moodle version, students receive basic instructions, they study manuals for developing ICT competences, they communicate with teachers and other students, and they deliver their assignments and are being assessed.

In the Enviwiki environment they study basic sustainability concepts and search for information relevant to the topics of their interest. Students are invited to further develop these topics in their short assignments. Products of the work – texts (annotations, summaries or review essays) – they publish in the relevant place of Enviwiki; they provide links with other relevant pages and include external resources.

Thus, students become happy to have an opportunity to contribute to the learning environment. They are using active learning strategies – constructing the knowledge base instead of pure utilization of it.

 

Table 1. Example of the student’s work – page Syndromes of Global Change (available at http://www.enviwiki.cz/wiki/Hlavn%C3%AD_syndromy_glob%C3%A1ln%C3%AD_zm%C4%9Bny) Syndromes described by blue words are the titles of pages that have been written by other students. Description of syndromes labeled by red words have not been produced by the students yet.

image001

 

 

 

 

Table 2. Example of the student’s work – page Rural Exodus Syndrome (available at http://www.enviwiki.cz/wiki/Syndrom_vylid%C5%88ov%C3%A1n%C3%AD_venkova). Description of one of the syndromes produced by student (see also the History of the page).

image002

 

 

 

Conclusion

This paper aims to contribute to the theoretical debate on SD literacy, and attempts to analyze the epistemology of the field. It also suggests practical and variable frames for structuring of knowledge generated in different discourses. Considerations on the character of knowledge systems designed with regard to constructivist approaches are presented. Reflections of this type are relevant to the envisaged forms of texts for sustainable development studies – electronic media provide appropriate environment for emphasizing of the complex character of the problem.

EnviWiki, an electronic encyclopedia designed for sustainable development literacy was presented. Wikipedia software has numerous advantages in the field of education, where active learning strategies are being implemented. This teacher education toolkit is available in the Czech educational arena, it was implemented successfully and it has great potential for further development and utilization.

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