ERG SES H 05, Teachers' Practices and Innovations
Virtual School Garden Exchange (VSGE) is a special form of Virtual Exchange (VE), which ‘is a practice (…) that consists of sustained, technology-enabled, people-to-people education programmes or activities in which constructive communication and interaction takes place between individuals or groups who are geographically separated and/or from different cultural backgrounds, with the support of educators or facilitators’ (Evolve 2018). In a VSGE, learners from primary or secondary schools around the world, who are engaged in school gardening, can communicate in a virtual setting about their garden experiences and related topics using media such as emails, photos, films, or video conferences. As VSGE links the local gardening initiatives in schools globally through virtual exchanges, it contributes to the aim of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) to link local action with global thinking.
In this study, ESD is defined as a holistic, problem-solving, future-, and action-oriented educational concept, which addresses social, ecological, and economic aspects of different topics of sustainability and the local and global perspectives on these topics, the latter of which is particularly important in this research (2016, p. 3; Scheunpflug 2001, p. 87; Schreiber and Siege 2016, p. 84; Rieckmann 2018, 2012). ESD responds to the global challenges that can be tackled through a new way of learning and teaching (Scheunpflug 2001, p. 87; Barth and Rieckmann 2008) and offers a significant contribution to the transformation of our society (Amariei et al. 2016, p. 3).
“Creating settings in which learners can deal with global sustainability topics and can communicate and collaborate with people from other countries can thus be seen as essential elements of ESD. However, few learning settings can be found that offer and stimulate an interactive dialogue between learners from the North and the South” (Barth and Rieckmann 2008, p. 27). Digital media offer learners from different countries opportunities to overcome geographical barriers to connect and engage with each other. They open up ways for the implementation of ESD. It is a way to experience our globalized existence as learners (Schreiber and Siege 2016, p. 65; Schreiber 2001, p. 176).
A similar argumentation can be found in the field of environmental psychology. Römpke (2017) states that “bringing people in contact with people in other countries will be a motivating factor to care more about the own influence on the wellbeing of people in other places; when it is not just the environment that is harmed, but at the same time a friend of mine” (Römpke 2017, p. 21).One “exceptionally promising” (Amichai-Hamburger and McKenna 2006, p. 839) medium how groups can get in contact is the internet. “Groups that are (…) geographically distant from each other” (l.c., p.827) can communicate easily via the web. A positive international contact might contribute towards a global identity. “Global identity reflects social identification with the world and the largest, most inclusive human ingroup and is generally associated with behavior that serves the world and all humans, such as transnational cooperation or proenvironmental engagement” (Renger and Reese 2017, p. 1).
The combination of virtual exchange and school gardening is a relatively recent innovative development in practice and research. Besides many commonalities, such exchanges differ with respect to the concrete form of implementation, and each VSGE has set individual thematic foci (Lochner 2016). In this paper, the intention of the initiator of the VSGE will be analyzed:
What do the initiators want to achieve with the VSGE?
Why should learners participate in VSGE?
Using a snowball sampling approach, following Schnell, Hill, and Esser (2013, 292) 17 projects and 25 experts from all around the world have been identified, who fulfil the following criteria: - The expert is involved in the implementation of a VSGE (focus: school garden, analog or digital exchange of learners from two or more schools and countries). - The expert is engaged in an already implemented VSGE OR in the ongoing implementation process of a VSGE. The sampling ended when I was not referred further to any new people and a redundancy of the material appeared (cf. Flick 2006, p. 104f.). Due to the facts that these types of projects exist internationally, my language skills are limited to German, English and Spanish, that such projects often have only a poor web presence and furthermore there is so far no shared terminology, it can be assumed that there are more projects, which have not been identified. With these experts semi-structured expert interviews were conducted highlighting the personal perspectives, backgrounds and structures of relevance of the experts (Flick 2006, p. 117; Schnell et al. 2013, p. 378). The expert interviews are based on a guideline consisting of pre-formulated open questions. The order of the questions is redefined in every single interview by the interviewer (Schnell et al. 2013, p. 315). The guideline has been revised, proofread and tested in all the three languages. Except for four face-to-face interviews, all interviews were conducted via Skype. The interviews lasted between 58 and 100 minutes and took place in English, German or Spanish. The interviews were audio-recorded and the transcription and analysis was done with MAXQDA. In the transcription the recording of pauses, tones of voice and other nonverbal elements were omitted (Meuser and Nagel 1991, p. 455) as they are not relevant to this research. The analysis of the data will follow the approach of Mayring’s (2000) qualitative content analysis model. Categories will be developed in a deductive and inductive manner.
At this state of the research, after having finished nearly all interviews certain patterns can already be perceived in the material: The initiators of the VSGE want… … to give their learners the opportunity of an authentic contact to people in other parts of the world: “window to the world”, “open up their minds”, “feeling connected”. … to show them the similarities they (the learners) share with children from other parts of the world: gardening, eating, etc. … the learners to have a change of perspectives. … that the learners practice their language skills. … to exchange on horticultural practices. … to help children in other parts of the world. … that the learners feel like global citizens.
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