Low-technology Multidisciplinary Teaching in the Amazon: Challenging Epistemologies and Learning Patterns

By Chui-Ling Tam and Conny Davidsen.

Published by The Technology Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Current university students are the first generation that grew up surrounded by digital technology from an early age, affecting their interactive social environment, cultural identity, sense of place, behavioural patterns, classroom interaction and learning methods. This paper discusses recent lessons from a new-generation field school at the University of Calgary focused on low-technology multidisciplinary approaches to conservation and development. Students were taught intertwined modules in three simultaneous courses on biology, development studies, and environmental policy, while living and working as Amazon researchers on a research vessel in the Peruvian Amazon, without digital teaching aids or even electricity. Their learning experience was observed and recorded by surveys throughout the field school.

Low technology and multidisciplinary learning both challenge our trained patterns of academic thinking. Together, they provide a new learning experience for students in which everything is challenged, from self-reflexivity on technology-dependent lifestyles and social distraction to an epistemological re-thinking of academic compartmentalizations of knowledge. The findings suggest that, where used effectively, low-technology learning can contribute to a heightened sensitivity and deeper immersion in complex multidisciplinary issues, more focused face-to-face interaction and group dynamics in project-based activities. Beneficial experiential learning effects were also a stronger sense of place and cultural identification with local indigenous people.

Keywords: Low-technology, Technology Dependence, Multidisciplinary, Experiential, Field School, Learning Patterns

The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp.113-122. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 652.295KB).

Dr. Chui-Ling Tam

Assistant Professor, Development Studies Program, Faculty of Communication and Culture, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Chui-Ling Tam is an Assistant Professor of Development Studies at the University of Calgary. Her current research and publications focus on the intersection of political ecology, communication geographies, environmental management and participatory development in Southeast Asia. She is also interested in innovative pedagogy, mainly in the form of collaborative, multidisciplinary experiential field schools that engage with environment and development.

Dr. Conny Davidsen

Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Conny Davidsen is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy and Governance at the University of Calgary. She is interested in new forms of student engagement from multidisciplinary to experiential and active learning methods to address increasingly complex global issues in human-environment systems. Her main research focuses on the political process behind changing environmental policies, especially from a political ecology perspective. This involves a wide range of issues in the interface between global and local from the international policy discourse on conservation and sustainable resource management to the local organization of resource use in communities. She works primarily in Latin America and Canada.

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