Week Thirteen: MA Project

Updated: Jun 1

Interview with JD Whitman

Images: https://www.jdwhitman.com

My conversation with JD was inspiring and encouraging. What stood out from our discussion and that is something I want to focus on is JD's emphasis on the importance of young people engaging with nature from an early age. I grew up in a rural village in the southwest of England where nature was easily accessible. I fondly remember regular field trips throughout the seasons during my childhood years. The evidence that argues the importance of field trips is substantial. It would be almost impossible to disagree that field trips don't increase interest or understanding of a particular topic or subject. Of course, this isn't something that doesn't happen anymore, but as JD mentioned, field trips like the ones I enjoyed don't happen as regularly.

"There has been an entire shift from nature based experiential learning to classroom based learning."

-JD Whitman

For example, most recent, the Coronavirus subjected people (globally) to lengthy periods spent inside. As well as this, there are the ever-mounting precautions and regulations teachers face when organising such trips. Going back to my memories of field trips, they were safe but probably not enough for today's standards. Cost is also a significant factor.

During a recent beach cleaning event, I set up a stall to collect email addresses (pictured below) for a monthly newsletter from Plastic Tides. The event itself attracted many people; during one conversation I had with one of the attendees, she mentioned how her school in Hong Kong used to organise events to clean up local communities but continued to say how these events no longer happen.

With all the above in mind, the next (and possibly only) other option is to try and bring nature into the classroom.

"There needs to be a way where people can have access, tactile sense access, to nature while they're learning about it."

-JD Whitman

JD mentioned how AR and VR can (and are beginning to) play an integral role here. JD describes that although AR and VR are tech-based and still removed from nature, they allow for an interactive element, proven to be beneficial in students showing more empathy towards the natural environment, wanting to learn more and showing more interest in topics surrounding climate change. However, such technology is only available to schools which can afford it.

Image: Taken by me at a local beach clean

My conversation with JD backs my research further regarding the importance of interaction within education surrounding plastic pollution and climate change. Although JD mentioned AR and VR being (potentially) the next best option to engage students with nature, I feel that cost would impact their accessibility. In considering the age of the children I'm building this project around, I also believe that AR and VR might not be entirely suitable. The Covid pandemic has impacted young children in many ways. For example, not being able to attend school has meant they've missed out (not only on their learning) but opportunities to socialise and be in a safe environment where they can both learn and play. Online learning has bridged this gap to the best of its ability; however, classes were often shorter and couldn't appeal to all the senses. With this in mind, I believe there's still demand and a need for physical design that leaves some room for imagination. JD mentioned the numerous, cost-friendly ways where little or no technology is required. For example, JD's Plasticity Project used projectors, fans and speakers, which most schools have readily available.

Design Progress

I had recently fallen a bit flat regarding design and ideas; however, my conversation with JD had jolted me somewhat. JD's Plasticity Project was very inspiring. I was inspired by how immersive it is, and I realised how essential this immersive, interactive element is. The immersive, interactive element brought me back to Bruno Munari and how he had used simple materials to create an (as JD described) "tactile sense access to nature."

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