11 Thematic niches
As always, along with the title theme of the congress, various other arguments relevant to environmental education (divided into 11 thematic niches) will be dealt with.
1. Promoting Environmental Education and Networking. This niche is for environmental educators who want to reach across rural and urban—and other—divides to develop concrete networks, collaborative projects, and shared action research. It provides an opportunity to present case studies of exemplary networking. And, it also provides opportunities for those who want to learn from others and create new work.
We anticipate that emergent networking proposals may be announced at the closing plenary session. This niche also asks who might be excluded from these networks and how can they be included? And, how can social networks help link urban and rural people? How can sustainability and sustainable development-oriented educations, and indeed other educations, strengthen or hamper environmental education? Finally, this niche provides opportunities to discuss the impacts of past Congresses and other international conferences. Have these networking opportunities improved environmental education and environmental education policies? Have they enhanced the political profile for environmental education? What can be done internationally and nationally to allow more educators to benefit from such events?
2. Intercultural dialogues. Environmental educators are challenged to imagine how environmental education can engage in intercultural dialogues. This niche explores topics such as relationships among: diverse cultures; people, spirituality, and landscapes; ways of knowing and being in the world; literacy and orality; education, storytelling and learning that is informed by and linked to cultural heritage; and, the politics of knowledge and cultural marginalization. It asks, how can environmental education unearth socio-ecological memory? Where can educators find good contact zones for intercultural dialogues? Finally, how can environmental educators use intercultural dialogues in their teaching?
3. Social Movements and building ecological societies. This niche is sensitive to complexities of socio-ecological and cultural issues, practices, and contexts. Participants are challenged to imagine how environmental education can engage with urban and rural grassroots movements, different stakeholders, and with civil society to: build robust and responsive political practices, promote active citizenship, avert environmental conflicts, defend the commons, cultivate peace, and create more just societies. What is the role of environmental education in this milieu? How can it help enable ordinary citizens to act more responsibly? What challenges do environmental educators face when trying to support and promote responsible activism?
4. Communications and the impact of social media. Access to web-based information and social media venues has opened new opportunities for education and communications. This niche enables environmental educators to explore and discuss the impacts of these opportunities. How can they narrow the rural-urban experiences? But, also, what are the downsides of this new form of social networking? Is this web-based networking the prerogative of particular interests and privileges? What roles are there for both the new and old communications media in supporting both formal and non-formal environment education? This niche also invites intergenerational conversations—especially between youth who have grown up in a digital age, and those who have not. Together, participants will share insight into contemporary questions. What are emerging educational roles for media, environmental communications, and social networks? What roles are there for real and virtual experiences? What would a green web look like? How can youth be encouraged to take leadership roles in developing social networks and technology training in environmental education?
5. Ecological economics and green economies. How can environmental education contribute to understanding complex relationships between ecologies and economics in rural, urban, and globalized environments? How can ecological economics help bridge the socio-economic gap between urban and rural areas? How can environmental education help create emergent “green” economies? How can mobility and migration affect green economies? On the other hand, how should environmental education engage with “greenwashing” and overconsumption in many parts of the world. This niche invites participants to consider these questions in light of persistent themes such as limits to growth, ecological footprints, shared responsibilities in contexts of disparity, a low carbon society, sustainable production and consumption, food security, urban and peri-urban agriculture, alternative communities and transition towns, ecological tourism, agro-ecology, and eco-management of natural resources.
6. Ethics, ecophilosophy, human-nature relationships. All environmental issues ultimately rest on deeply held assumptions and values that are implicit, or explicitly discussed and are reflected in differing worldviews. These assumptions can be shaped by particular contexts—by local, traditional and indigenous knowledge. How, for example, do urban and rural contexts shape different assumptions? And, how can these assumptions be similar? Examining these assumptions, worldviews, and values is sometimes called environmental ethics, ecophilosophy, or ecospirituality. Environmental ethics often probes human-nature relationships and considerations of respect for all life. How, then, can environmental educators use ethics as a process to explore relationships, controversy, dissonance, and unconventional ideas? How can ethics be used to imagine new possibilities? From another direction, environmental educators can examine the origins of moral impulses. As such, they consider ethical responses informed by experiential education, ethics of care and proximity, place-based learning, biophilia, transpersonal ethics, and ethics as praxis. How do these more experiential understandings contribute to the emergence of ecological practices and personal ecophilosophies? How do they contribute to the valuation and care for nature and society?
7. Greening education. Environmental education has a special role in emergent trends in greening education. A central question is: How can networking and collaborations with organizations outside of formal education help replenish the lack of equipment, material, knowledge and expertise in school systems and support the greening of education? Also, how can these collaborations allow the rigidity of school systems to be surpassed, in both urban and rural areas? From another vantage point, we can ask: How can environmental education questions be brought to the core mandate, and curriculum greening, of educational institutions—formal, non-formal, and informal? Or, is environmental education more suited to the edges of educational mandates where it is better positioned to critique conventional education and offer innovative alternatives? Perhaps there are hybrid positions where environmental education can retain its critical edge while introducing incremental changes? What can sustainable education mean? What can it mean to green life-long learning? In the context of these questions, this niche considers curriculum greening; greening schools, universities and other educational settings; urban and rural greening; and, greening relationships between educational agencies, communities, schools and universities, and civil society.
8. Creative impulses. Arts, imagination, and emotional understanding. Artists, and their friends and allies, are communicators and educators with potential to: imaginatively frame and reframe perceptions, transgress boundaries, foster new understandings, and generate new meanings. In light of the conference theme, how can the arts help transgress differences between urban and rural contexts and foster new understandings between communities? This niche includes themes such as the role of the arts in bringing together participation from diverse communities, arts as an educational experience, arts as an activist tool, and arts as an expression of different emotional understandings. And, it invites experimental expression in different languages of art: as literary, visual, conceptual, and as social practice; and also as theatre, poetry, and music. Perhaps most importantly, this niche encourages environmental educators to do what artists live to do—that is challenge the imagination to move outside of its usual frames of reference and to engage the world in new ways.
9. Pedagogy and learning. This niche explores the twin concepts of pedagogy and learning as participants consider environmental education imperatives for the twenty-first century. What promising strategies are emerging in teaching and learning, in teacher education, in formal and informal teaching, and in life-long and life-wide education? What are the new trends in environmental education research, and what counts as quality in this new research? And what does research say about learning and pedagogy in city gardens and parks, in rural areas, and farms? What new perspectives inform participatory methodologies and activism? What has been learned from emotional and spiritual experiences? What advances have there been in evaluation of teaching and learning? In establishing quality indicators? What is the role of environmental education in hybrid learning, where distinctions are disappearing between: formal, in-formal, and non-formal learning; private and public sector learning; intergenerational learning; and, content areas and disciplines?
10. Research in environmental education. In the present era, it is disturbingly difficult to respond to the challenges the world faces and to understand how environmental education research can provide helpful insights. With that realization in mind, this niche is intended to be about research, that is, meta-research inquiry. To what ends do we engage in environmental education research? Should there be shared goals or purposes in environmental education research? Or, should research celebrate different goals in, for example, urban and rural, or shared spaces? What methodological considerations are under-represented? What are key issues with research processes, emergent methodologies and methods, and the relationship between these and the legitimate construction of knowledge? To what extent has environmental education research affected policies and practices? What are the costs associated with increased prominence associated with evidence-based policy development? Or, policy-driven evidence? In what ways can the internet and social media be used to improve researchers’ and educators’ access to valuable worldwide research? How can they connect to networks they may not otherwise have access to?
*Please Note: Research is also transversal and relevant to all niches. Participants interested in this niche are encouraged to explore questions about the nature and purpose of environmental education research. Participants should report other research in the 9 alternative niches.
11. Risk, health, and environment. This niche explores ways that environmental education can understand and respond to complex socio-ecological risks in the face of local and global environmental degradation, environmental migrations, and poverty. What can be learned from rural and urban experiences as people struggle to adapt to the effects of climate change, biodiversity loss, “natural” disasters, agribusiness, pollution, and environmental migrations? What lessons can be learned from a global perspective? And, how can educators better employ concepts like resilience, “uncertainty,” precaution, environmental justice, footprints, and handprints?