Over the past few weeks we have been trying as a team to distill the most powerful and promising aspects of the learning opportunities afforded by Out of Eden Learn and to consider how we might best frame our project moving forward. This discussion is still ongoing and will be informed by further interviews with students and educators, as well as a just-to-be-launched educator survey.
The overwhelming feedback we have received thus far is that our project is offering a rich, engaging, and thought-provoking learning experience for students: indeed, we have been humbled by many students’ sheer enthusiasm and excitement for Out of Eden Learn. Nevertheless, it feels important to refine our learning goals and research agenda at this juncture for several reasons. First, to continue to improve our learning model and materials, we want to articulate the kinds of understandings we hope participants will develop by taking part in Out of Eden Learn – albeit in a non-prescriptive, non-reductive way that allows for serendipity and a variety of learning experiences and teacher adaptations. Being clearer about our overall learning goals will help us to plan for deeper learning experiences, in ways that align with fundamental Project Zero curriculum design principles such as the Teaching for Understanding framework. Second, we think that having clearly stated goals will help educators to make more informed decisions about whether or not they want to have their students participate in Out of Eden Learn in the first place, as well as aid them in identifying and planning for potential connections to their existing curricula or syllabuses. Third, we think that we will be able to offer more effective support and feedback to students if we share a more defined sense of purpose. Finally, we intend to develop a coherent research agenda that could have an impact on educational practices more generally.
Two important, and we believe related, themes for our learning and research agenda are emerging as we examine student and educator comments and reflections: “slow” and “culture”.
A key premise of Paul’s walk is the concept of slowing down to examine the world carefully: to reveal otherwise invisible stories, to connect the dots between scattered news headlines, and to uncover deeper truths about our common humanity. As we have explained in previous blog posts, our learning activities invite students to emulate what Paul is doing, albeit on a smaller scale: for example, taking a walk in their neighborhood and looking at it with fresh eyes, listening to a neighbor’s story, or reflecting on how their own lives connect to a larger human story. We have been struck by the degree to which student participants of all ages seem to have embraced this concept of slowing down. They report looking at the world around them in new and exciting ways and feeling motivated to explore it more carefully and to try to make a difference in it. Many students comment that their everyday lives feel rushed; they welcome a change of pace and the chance to think deeply about the world. Out of Eden Learn stands as a counterpoint to the hurried patterns of “modern” existence.
Students are also telling us that they are eager to learn about different cultures. Paul’s reporting is fascinating to them and they appreciate the glimpses he offers of very different lives and places to the ones with which they are familiar. We are also hearing that they enjoy the chance to interact with other children and to compare different perspectives via their learning groups (“walking parties”) on Out of Eden Learn. In this sense, our project counteracts the phenomenon that Ethan Zuckerman describes in his book Rewire – that is, the tendency for our range of reference to be narrowed rather than expanded in the digital age because of our inclination to “flock together” with people who are like ourselves and to seek out information that accords with our existing world views. With Out of Eden Learn we are trying to create safe, structured environments that allow for the kinds of “serendipitous” encounters and discoveries that Zuckerman thinks are so important for bridging cultural divides.
Moving forward, we have many questions regarding how young people are viewing culture and how we can, for example, help them to think about culture in complex and dynamic ways that avoid stereotyping others or reducing cultures to a single story. But we hope that Out of Eden Learn can offer a safe space for students to explore other cultures and to gain new perspectives on their own lives, as well as the opportunity to gain confidence and skill at interacting with people who are situated in different cultural, economic, social, and political contexts to their own. We think that the concept of “slow” is a crucial component of this process: we have to offer young people the time to look closely and listen carefully in order for them to open up to – indeed, to notice – new perspectives. As one 10th grade student said recently during an interview:
Sometimes, we allow for creativity or a break in the norm, but usually we don’t. And now, I’m going around and doing that almost every day. I’m trying to reach out to people that I haven’t reached out to before. I’m trying to learn about people and learn their stories and learn how they’re different from me, and then I’m trying to relate to other people.
We are currently grappling with how best to frame the concepts of slow and culture as we revise our learning and research goals. For instance, to what extent are we trying to promote “intercultural competence”? Does the notion of “competence” adequately capture our attempt to help young people situate their own lives within a broader cultural context and to reflect on their own lives? How do we support young people so that they are not only sensitive to people of different cultures but also inclined to engage with them? How can we frame our project so that we build links to existing educational concepts without being constrained by them? We would welcome further questions or feedback as we navigate this exciting but tricky terrain!