|Anya and Kathrin - happy to help!|
How it all Started:
In my Master’s program, Adult Education for Social Change, my focus lies on environmental conservation, and sustainability though an adult education lens. To continue, my area is community outreach, and the leading questions I ask in relation to my field are:
· What makes us care about environmental issues, which lead to creating a more sustainable future?
· How can we share the importance of environmental issues within all fields of adult education (informal, non-formal, and formal)?
· What steps can adult educators take to implement sustainability and environmental awareness into everyday life?
For this Master, students spend each semester in a different country. Thus, with my third semester in Tallinn, I was thrilled to receive my placement with Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF). Through scientific research, they aim to protect Estonia’s wildlife, and foster environmental outreach throughout Estonia. They understand that caring for the environment is something that should include everyone as they write:
“Nature cannot be protected only by a small group of experts. In order to preserve our natural resources for future generations, we compile reports to today´s decision makers regarding our current environmental status, talk about nature conservation in public and organize events and campaigns to help people get to know the environment better” (“What We Do,” n.d., para.4).
Since my main focus with environmental education and sustainability had been with Indigenous traditional knowledge, and learning through activism movements, I was ready to learn more about the context environmental sustainability in Estonia, and how ELF weaved adult education into environmental protection.
Bump in the Road:
I was learning so much about how ELF was connecting scientific conservation knowledge to adult education. For example, this upcoming summer, ELF is organizing a family day which aims to educate people of all ages about Estonia’s wildlife in a fun, and engaging way. The root of this day would be showing the beauty of the natural environment in Estonia, while fostering understanding and engagement through family friendly activities. Engaging workshops are a fundamental tool in the field of environmental adult education, and learning about this project as it was being developed was incredibly beneficial (Fitzwilliams-Heck, 2019). Thus, I was also able to give my personal input, and suggestions, along with my colleague about activities to include in this family day.
So, I was learning, but our schedules were not matching up. They were based in Tartu, while my colleague and I were in Tallinn. To continue, each event that my colleague and I were invited to clashed with our academic schedules and I felt like I was hardly contributing to ELF. It was nearing the end of the semester, and I felt like there was more I could be doing to gain the most collaboration with my placement. This is when my colleague and I had an idea.
Unexpected Adult Education:
Elf was facilitating a communication training for volunteers (NaturallyEst LIFE - piloting Natura 2000 communication in Estonia), which would provide them with tools for communicating in the context of environmental conservation in Estonia. My colleague and I first had the idea to create a video or mini course surrounding communication, which could go alongside ELF’s course, and provide some extra tools. Our program had given us useful tools for effective communication in the field of adult education, so we hoped sharing these tools could help with ELF’s communication. For example, we suggested Jane Vella’s 12 principles for adult education, which can also be transferred to environmental education (Vella, 2002). However, our placement instructors found a different gap with the training, which was social media outreach.
Designing a Mini-Course:
Although I use social media as a platform to share political, environmental and personal information, as well as follow many activism/ educational accounts, this project required much research from my end. Furthermore, as social media is still often seen predominantly as a platform for communication (Vaičiūnienė, & Mažeikienė, 2013), it also offers great potential for educating for social change. I understood this but found myself spending hours researching the very basics of social media.
Who used what sites?
How do algorithms work, again?
What makes posts successful?
Our course was meant to be short, and informative, so I wanted to be sure to include concise information, which could then connect to environmental adult education outreach. My colleague and I divided the work, and then went over the course together. So, my focus was more on the basics of social media, and outreach. I found it fascinating to relearn and define what works with posts.
For my examples, I focused mainly on environmental activism, and analyzed the rhetoric used in the posts. A couple of my discoveries were particularly fascinating. The first was just how important engaging the viewers seemed to be in the posts. For example, asking viewers to share a story or their experience seems to be more important to viewers than just listing facts and figures, even if they are shocking. Second, how embedded adult education really is in social media. Even from just looking at my social media accounts, I realized that education (adult in my case) was around every corner. Even when posts were personal, they often shared political, social, and artistic views. Sharing was everywhere, and everything that was being shared was a piece of information that could be learned from in some way. This further increased my understanding of just how powerful a tool social media can be for adult education in the context of environmental education.
Enough talk about the course, though- please have a look for yourself! https://anyaellyn97.wixsite.com/placement
In addition to the basics of social media, and outreach, we have also included a couple interviews where we asked two experienced social media users (one professional and one Master student) about their experience with social media in the context of outreach and environmental education. You can also find a module on the use of humor within social media!
While there still exists a large gap in environmental education research (Fitzwilliams-Heck, 2019), both learning more about environmental education in Estonia, along with co-creating a mini-course has re-emphasized the importance of outreach within adult education, and given me tools to continue studying and learning from this field.
Fitzwilliams-Heck, C. J. (2019). Experiences and practices of environmental adult education participants. Environmental Education Research, 1–2. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2019.1573420
Vella, J. K. (2002). Learning to listen, learning to teach: The power of dialogue in educating adults (Rev. ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Vaičiūnienė, V., & Mažeikienė, V. (2013). Social media in adult education: Insights gained from
grundtvig learning partnership project “Institutional strategies targeting the uptake of social
networking in adult education (ISTUS)”. Social Technologies, 2(2)
What We Do. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2019, from Elfond website: https://elfond.ee/what-we-do