Blog | Transformative Learning Hub Goes Wild | Nature-based education with Ioanna Skaltsa, Ewout Openneer, Reineke van Tol, Koen Arts and Gina Maffey

On October 20th, the Transformative Learning Hub Went Wild. For the first time in over a year – actually, for the very first time since we launched the Hub! – we were able to meet in person. And so we did. In the beautiful setting of Landgoed Quadenoord in Renkum, around a fire pit.

With a diverse group of twenty educators from within and outside Wageningen University, we explored the role and value of nature-based education. After a round of introductions, we divided ourselves into groups. The first task of each group was to build their own ‘break-out fire’, using an ember from the main fire and getting their fire started with dry twigs and birch bark, collected in the forest. Once each group had a fire going, our four hosts for this session, facilitated one ‘break-out room’: Ioanna Skaltsa (Agricultural University of Athens) , Ewout Openneer (Christelijke Hogeschool Ede), Reineke van Tol (WUR), Koen Arts (WUR) and Gina Maffey (Wildeor).

Below some impressions from the break-out fires!

Go Observe and Learn from Nature (GOAL). Personal development in WILD (Ioanna)

The invitation was to explore Nature as a place and source of knowledge, inspiration, wisdom and wellbeing. Could outdoor education and experiential learning enhance the acquisition and development of personal competences? Could Nature be a mentor in our personal development? Are there tools and techniques we could adopt in order to explore the above mentioned? Why, where and how we could apply them in Higher Education?

The natural element of fire, as the heart of our circle, unified us in a team that for 45 minutes was sharing thoughts, emotions and plans. First, we introduced ourselves using as a token, for entering our circle, a natural object that had “chosen” us during a one minute solo silent walk in the forest. The first connection with nature had been made by seeing our own characteristics and qualities in our natural object-token. Then, through an experiential activity and storytelling, we experienced the connections between change and time, in nature and in our lives. The activity was supported by Kolb’s circle. Mindfulness was the way for exploration and connection with ourselves, others and Nature. We reflected upon Nature’s power and the need to implement outdoors in all levels of education.

The invitation has been accepted and the fire has started sparks also in our minds, hearts and hands!  

About nature, connectedness and work (Ewout)

What a pleasure to be part of this TL-HUB about nature-based learning activities! It was great to start with making a fire together. After this teamwork I did a short introduction of the question at my fire pit:  Why should we offer students possibilities to explore their connection with nature? We started to explore this question by having some experiential learning for ourselves. Participants were invited to find a nice spot in the forest, sit there for a while in silence and to make a little drawing. After this part we came back to reflect on the experience, on the theme of nature connectedness and the added value of this experiential learning in nature.  We shared our thoughts about it. And came to explore the central question. It was nice to hear many benefits and opportunities. Especially in the case of personal development and mental health of students it would be usable in every field of study we thought. It was also good to realise that there is no ‘one size fits all – program’. And that we should use the many different opportunities of nature-based (outdoor) learning. 

Exploring Wild pedagogies (Reineke)

Around my fire pit we explored the heuristic of ‘Wild pedagogy’ (as described by Morse, Jickling & Quay, 2018) and how to apply this to our education. What is needed to transform our education in a radical way, breaking with authority and control and instead working from curiosity, self-will and wonder in a multi-species relational learning setting? What do we need to get rid of and how do we actually see nature as having agency as a co-teacher? In two highly inspiring sessions we shared our thoughts on this to come to an action plan. We actively threw into the fire all that is hindering us from implementing such wild pedagogies, being our own thoughts or fears, rules and regulations or just the mainstream or the system in which we are caught up. In contrast, what we reasoned we would need to start with is outdoor space (access to the wild) and a revisiting of our own inner wildness, time to wonder and wander and mostly courage, just daring to be different and trying new things. Daring to be Wild.

Inclusive nature-based education (Koen & Gina)

In the session with Koen & Gina, we explored issues around inclusion and exclusion within nature-based education. First, we paired up and one person was being blindfolded, while the other person guided the blindfolded person to a ‘treasure’ hidden in the nearby forest. The treasure was a little box containing an assignment. The assignment said: “You are a … (e.g. a pregnant woman, grandfather, person in a wheelchair, teenager). Nature-based education is important to me because….” We then had some silent time to reflect on our role and perspective and then shared stories around the fire, without revealing who we were. The other participants then guessed our roles, based on our stories. It was an interesting exercise and helped us to see how nature-based education isn’t necessarily inclusive and accessible to everyone and that we need to keep different perspectives in mind when designing nature-based learning experiences.

After a short break – with home-baked brownies and cakes – we divided for another round of break-outs and finally gathered around the main fire to share impressions and key take-aways. 

Inspired by the great interest in this session and the overall enthusiasm of the participants to further integrate nature-based education in (higher) education, Reineke van Tol and Koen Arts will take the lead in organizing a WUR-based working group on nature-based education. If you wish to stay informed, please contact Reineke (reineke.vantol@wur.nl) or Koen (koen.arts@wur.nl)

The next (online) TL hub session is scheduled for Wednesday November 17th from 9.30 -12.30 and will focus on ‘Bringing Transformative Learning into our University Teaching and Beyond’.