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Expert Voices

What happens to education when we start with the ‘where’ instead of just the ‘what’?

New forms of pedagogy can offer ways for educators, learners, schools and communities to connect learning to the real world. Place-responsive education is one example that students on the Master of Contemporary Education are considering for their change projects.

Jonathan Lynch from the Master of Contemporary education team has just completed his PhD that looked at ways teachers harnessed place in their curriculum making.

“My research found that learning beyond the classroom was enriched when teachers took place, or their location explicitly into account. Place-responsive education can enrich curricula because it fosters deep connections to real world topics and integrates school subjects. It can also help to shape students’ understanding of how we might create a future where our local actions on the environment lead to care for the whole planet. Taking place as a starting point or organising principle in education is a powerful pedagogical approach that makes us also consider culturally responsive practice. Places are not just empty containers that we then have to fill with educational activities. Places come with history and stories of humans and non-human actors.”

8000 years of human inhabitation – Scottish Highlands (Photograph by Jonathan Lynch)

One example from Jonathan’s research, based on in-service teachers in Scotland, was where teachers and pupils from a local school would set out to discover local archaeological sites through repeat visits such as the one in this picture. “These places were full of connections and important relationships. People have lived in these sites for 8,000 years. Taking this place as a starting point meant teaching and learning became about history, contested land practices and farming, commerce and trade, travel and movement. These were examples of integration of the curriculum and connections to the real world”.

Jonathan is keen to see where students within the Master of Contemporary education will take these ideas about pedagogy through their final projects. “Being ‘place-responsive’ is more than being sensitive to place; it’s about how we might respond to our local places through education and pedagogy. Place-responsive education could be a way to teach that engages students, illuminates the connections to the real world and develops our cultural responses. Care for our land, the earth itself and a deeper understanding of all cultures might be possible outcomes?”

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