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Sense of place describes both affective and cognitive — emotional and intellectual — connections to place. Affective outcomes, tied to arts and humanities education, can facilitate these connections. But little research explores environmental science, arts and humanities (eSAH) curricula on place relationships. Additionally, most research on the sense of place focuses on repeated visits to a place over time, rather than short-term experiences like a field trip. Finally, digital technology is a growing trend across science education, but little research investigates its use in field-based contexts. Our research begins to address these gaps. This article describes an eSAH field trip for middle and high school learners. Using a conventional content analysis, we present pilot data from two high school field trips. Our findings illuminate a framework for understanding active and passive place relationships in the context of short-term interdisciplinary field learning experiences.
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Forest discovery: place relationships on an
environmental science, arts and humanities (eSAH) field
Lissy Goralnik* , Sarah Minette Kelly, Kari OConnell, Michael Paul Nelson and Mark Schulze
Community Sustainability, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:
(Received 02 February 2020; revised 02 August 2020; accepted 25 September 2020)
Sense of place describes both affective and cognitive emotional and intellectual connections to place.
Affective outcomes, tied to arts and humanities education, can facilitate these connections. But little
research explores environmental science, arts and humanities (eSAH) curricula on place relationships.
Additionally, most research on the sense of place focuses on repeated visits to a place over time, rather
than short-term experiences like a field trip. Finally, digital technology is a growing trend across science
education, but little research investigates its use in field-based contexts. Our research begins to address
these gaps. This article describes an eSAH field trip for middle and high school learners. Using a conven-
tional content analysis, we present pilot data from two high school field trips. Our findings illuminate a
framework for understanding active and passive place relationships in the context of short-term interdis-
ciplinary field learning experiences.
Keywords: sense of place; care; interdisciplinary; environmental education; experiential learning; eco-phenomenology
Cold, clear streams, old-growth forests and interdisciplinary, place-based enquiry characterise the
H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest (HJA) in the Oregon Cascades, one of 26 sites in the National
Science Foundation-funded Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network. At the HJA, eco-
logical research is complemented by a long-running arts and humanities residency programme,
hosted in collaboration with the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word at
Oregon State University. These residencies encourage a similar long-view engagement with a place
to contribute to an ongoing conversation about the ways we observe, participate in and under-
stand appropriate relationships with forest ecosystems (see
Outreach and education are central to the LTER mission. Towards this end, we have developed
an environmental science, arts and humanities (eSAH) interpretation of the Discovery Trail (DT),
a ½-mile loop trail, to reflect the sites dual commitments to scientific and creative enquiry. The
10-stop digital curriculum for middle and high school learners includes audio recordings, short
videos and reflective activities to both increase knowledge about the place and environmental sci-
ence while also guiding learners to reflect on their own relationships with place. Our research
explores the question: What are the impacts of a 1-day environmental science, arts and humanities
(eSAH) field trip on place relationships? Most research on place relationships focuses on longer-
term engagement with particular landscapes, and there is little empirical work on eSAH outcomes.
This manuscript is original work. It has not been submitted or published anywhere else.
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press.
Australian Journal of Environmental Education (2020), 112
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Our project addresses both of these research opportunities to explore short-term place enquiry on
place relationships guided by an eSAH intervention.
In 2017, we launched the iPad curriculum with two high school environmental science classes.
This article unpacks pilot data from these field trips (n =26), including (a) digital prepost and
formative assessment and (b) hard copy post-experience questionnaires (open-ended and Likert-
style questions). Results demonstrate two kinds of place relationships emerged in response to the
trail experience: (1) a passive place relationship, whereby learners felt cared for by the place, but
did not express agency in the place relationship and (2) an active place relationship, whereby
learners take responsibility for the place relationship as active participants, expressing an intention
to care for the forest. These exploratory data provide insight into the student experience and illu-
minate a framework for understanding place relationships in the context of short-term interdis-
ciplinary field learning experiences.
The DT experience
The DT curriculum blends HJA environmental science content with creative work from writers and
artists in the residency programme, as well as reflective, imaginative (e.g., imagining different per-
spectives, scales and future scenarios), observational, creative (e.g., related to visual art and creative
writing) and meditative activities, which use voice narration to guide learners to put the iPads down
and engage the forest without technology. Each enquiry-driven, participatory stop includes both
scientific and arts or humanities content (see Figure 1). For example, students watch a video about
Northern spotted owls, then draw comic strip images imagining the lives of owls in the forest; listen
to an interview about songbirds and sound in ecological research, then create their own sound maps
and view images of artist Leah Wilsons study of colour in HJA watersheds, then conduct their own
investigation of the colour green along the trail. Digital interpretation allows learners to view the
landscape across seasons and scale; it also accommodates more school groups than site staff can
otherwise support. Groups of up to three learners share an iPad. Up to 30 students can participate
on the trail at one time. The HJA hosts three to five field trips each fall and spring.
Field trips are greeted by the staff, who read a poem about the forest written by a visiting writer.
Students then gather at the trailhead, where they are released one at a time on a ¼-mile silent walk.
They are directed to stay several steps apart from each other and refrain from speaking or using
technology, so they can attend to the sensory experience of the landscape. The poem and the sen-
sory walk set the tone for the eSAH DT experience by providing the language of creative writing
and the physical experience of reflexivity as a lens through which to interact with the landscape. As
Eisner (2002) explains, one very important aim of arts education is to help students ::: acquire an
ability to frame virtually any aspect of the world esthetically(p. 232). Weaving creative and
reflective activities into the entire DT experience primes the students to engage the trail through
this perspective, thereby using eSAH to help students forge a deeper connection to the environ-
ment and witness nature through a more engaged lens(York, 2014, p. 110).
After debriefing the sensory walk, small groups of students are led to their interpretive stops.
Trail stops take up to 2030 min each; therefore, groups complete three to four stops per visit
(Figure 1) for a 90-min trail experience. While each stop is unique, each three-stop experience
shares similar modes of engagement (Tables 1and 2), including (a) values reflection; (b) obser-
vation of forest dynamics; (c) graph or diagram interpretation; (d) meditative and creative activi-
ties and (e) either listening to or reading creative or narrative writing (poems, indigenous story, or
literary essay). Each stop grouping also includes content aligned with the Next Generation Science
Standards crosscutting concepts related to (a) stability and change, (b) cause and effect, (c) pat-
terns and (d) systems (NRC, 2011). Groups finish together with a reflective activity and post-trip
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Sense of place and the field trip experience
Sense of place describes sentimental, psychological and activity-based connections to place
(Kudryavtsev, Stedman, & Krasny, 2012). Different disciplines describe the sense of place in
nuanced ways, but place attachment is often used as a proxy for a sense of place, describing
an emotional relationship with a specific place developed over time (Ardoin, 2006; Pierce,
2017). Scholars suggest that a different type of sense of place is possible in short-term place
immersions (Wattchow & Brown, 2011). For example, deliberate place investigations can ask
one to become curious about their surroundings from multiple perspectives (e.g., up close, far
away; through the lens of different user groups or species; across time, etc.). Field trip experiences
can invite learners to make comparisons between the field trip site and their own special places,
illuminating similarities across places and their role(s) in them. This kind of engagement mirrors
Wattchow and Browns(2011) discussion of a visitors place awareness, whereby one becomes an
empathetic insider of a place. This role requires a willingness to open oneself to the significances
of a place :::. [and to] understand that place as rich in meaning, and hence to identify with it
[:::and to] see and understand places in themselves(Relph, 1976, p. 55). Through this framing,
field trips can guide participants to take the awareness they gain in special places for example,
the HJA, or other sites that inspire wonder back into their everyday places (see Moore, 2004).
In this way, field trip investigations can facilitate curiosity about what it means to be a responsible
visitor and inhabitant of all places.
Place-based education and the DT experience
Place-based education is an experiential, problem-focused pedagogy that considers the historical,
social, ecological and political dynamics of a specific place (Gruenewald, 2003a; Israel, 2012; Sobel,
2008). Place-based curricula often encourage exploration through sensory engagement, close
observation and student-driven enquiry (Dickinson, 2011; Preston, 2015). Attention both to
individual agency and the complex dynamics of place can facilitate civic attitudes or personal
responsibility for the place (Ardoin, 2006; Gruenwald, 2003b; McInerney, Smyth, & Down,
Figure 1. Map of the 10-stop Discovery Trail.
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2011). The DT experience reflects these goals. Each stop is developed around the ecological pro-
cesses and management of the forest. Stops use enquiry about trail locations to facilitate learning
from concrete experience, then guide students to more abstract conceptualisation both about place
and ones role in it, a key feature of experiential learning pedagogy (Kolb, 1984).
Affective learning and the DT
In the 1970s, the Tbilisi Declaration identified two goals of environmental education: (1) knowl-
edge about complex interactions between natural and human environments and (2) attitudes and
values that allow learners to responsibly respond to environmental problems (UNESCO, 1978).
Since this foundational report, much environmental education research has focused on responsi-
ble environmental behaviour (REB). While behaviour change is a lofty goal for short-term
Table 2. Content/activities represented at the Discovery Trail interpretive
Activity/content Present at stops
Place reflection and observation 1, 2, 6
Creative activity 2, 3, 7
Personal and values reflection 3, 7, 8
Mindfulness activity 4, 5, 9
Creative writing 5, 10, 4
Interpreting a graph, diagram 6, 8, 10
NGSS: stability and change 7, 9, 3
NGSS: cause and effect 8, 1, 2
NGSS: patterns 9, 4, 5
NGSS: systems 10, 6, 1
Table 1. Discovery Trail activities and content
DT activities/content Example activity
Place reflection observation Identifying tree species, observing fire sign in the landscape
Creative activity Nature illustration lesson and practice
Personal reflection Reflecting on similarities between forest disturbance and personal growth
Values reflection Reflecting on what one appreciates about forests
Mindfulness activity Sound-mapping forest sounds
Creative writing Listening and responding to a poem written in the HJA
Interpreting a graph, diagram Interpreting rainfall graphs, responding to a carbon cycle diagram
NGSS: stability and change Learning about how logjams and flooding impact the river ecosystem
NGSS: cause and effect Learning about how a forest disturbance changes plant communities
NGSS: patterns Comparing graphs of avg. rainfall to time lapse photos of Lookout Creek
NGSS: systems Learning about nutrient cycling and forest food webs
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education programmes, and certainly not a straight-line outcome from knowledge and attitudes
(Kollmus & Agyeman, 2002), scholars agree that REB depends on both cognitive and affective
outcomes (Newman & Fernandes, 2016). While research on experiential learning demonstrates
both cognitive and affective impacts, outcomes related to sensory and emotional engagement have
been shown to be most impactful (Behrendt & Franklin, 2014; Rebar, 2010). We are not studying
behaviour change on the DT, but we are interested in a sense of place development, which is
associated with the desire to act on behalf of a place (Kudryavtsev et al., 2012). Therefore, behav-
iour change and sense of place outcomes are connected (Ramkissoon et al., 2012; Walker &
Chapman, 2003). The DT experience aims to foster this emotional connection to place and con-
tent through individual and group experiences, personal reflection and the integrated eSAH
Environmental science, arts and humanities
Scholars argue that arts education facilitates an empathetic perspective, an affective outcome.
Learners are often invited to share their feelings in the process of making or responding to art
and story in ways they are not when learning science (Davis, 2008); doing so can open important
imaginative and relational channels that facilitate learning (York, 2014). When place is presented as
a relational other, arts and humanities education can encourage students to attend to the textures,
seasons and health of that landscape in ways similar to how they might consider the wellbeing of
another person. College-level humanities courses have demonstrated a comparable emotional
investment in the wellbeing of self, others and the landscape (Algona & Simon, 2010;Johnson
& Frederickson, 2000). Similar outcomes related to empathy, awareness and sensitivity have been
demonstrated when arts and humanities content is integrated into the medical school curriculum
(Reilly, Ring, & Duke, 2005, pp. 251252). Arts education in tandem with environmental education
appeals to diverse learners across abilities, learning styles and interests (Deasy, 2002); through sen-
sory engagement and authentic experience, nesting arts and environmental education can facilitate
retention and recall (Land, 2013) and nurture both spatial and natural intelligence, two primary
pathways to learning (Staples, Larson, Worsley, Green, & Carroll, 2019).
In effect, eSAH integration invites the whole learner (Burns, 2015) into the experience, allowing
cognition and affect to work in tandem (Subbiondo, 2011). On the DT, these impacts are nested in
natural history, a practice of intentional focused attentiveness and receptivity to the more-than-
human world(Fleischner, 2011), which can facilitate empathetic awareness (Cooper, 2000).
While little empirical research explores the integration of eSAH content in environmental science
or field-based learning, evidence suggests that incorporating approaches like narrative, values
reflection, aesthetic appreciation, art practice and creative imagining alongside place-based
ecology and natural history can foster emotional connections to place and the natural world
(Goralnik & Nelson, 2015,2017; Graham, 2007; Staples et al. 2019; York, 2014).
In fall 2017, we hosted two high school environmental science classes (n =47) on the DT. This
article includes data from all students who granted consent (n =26) (Oregon State University
exempt determination IRB #7428). All students were 1518 years old. On each trip, we collected
(a) prepost and formative assessment on the iPads and (b) hard copy post-trip questionnaires
(open-ended and Likert-style questions). We also conducted participant observations, whereby an
on-trail observer recorded student conversations, group dynamics and engagement indicators
during the learning experience. Additionally, though not included in this analysis, we also col-
lected student collaborative drawings of the field trip experience. Student groups created these
drawings to describe their trail learning to the rest of the class during a final debrief.
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Since the pre/post and formative assessments were conducted via iPad, when students were
already in groups, questions were designated for either individual or group response. Students
were prompted to enter their names for individual questions, so participant responses could
be tracked across the experience. Participant observation field notes observed that students gave
each other space and quiet to respond to individual iPad questions.
Data analysis was guided by a constructivist eco-phenomenological methodology. Eco-
phenomenology extends the phenomenological tradition of studying phenomena, or appearances,
beyond human experience and into the material world by pursuing the elimination of mindbody
and humannature dualisms (Walsh, 2013). This enquiry is driven by the belief that humans are
embedded within the natural world; therefore, attempts to understand the human experience
require coupled investigation of both person and place. Similarly, intellectual engagement with
the world ought to be grounded by bodily engagement in that world (Zealand, 2007). The emphasis
on physical experience and place perception as a way to bridge dualisms aligns eco-phenomenology
with the objectives and experience of the DT. Our assessment tools ask learners to consider their
physical experience on the trail as a form of learning, and the content of the stops situates their
cognitive learning in their felt experience in place. As well, the format of the experience is designed
to foster both an individual and a group experience, alongside directed attention to the perspective
of the forest itself. Bridging these different perspectives through both creative and cognitive engage-
ment aims to soften dualistic boundaries.
We conducted an emergent thematic analysis of the qualitative data (Hesse-Biber & Leavy,
2008), coding all open-ended responses inductively, then grouping emergent codes into themes.
These themes were grouped into like categories to describe the place relationships we saw emerg-
ing in the data. The analytical process was iterative; several times we thought we understood the
major themes and relationships between them, only to find our scheme did not represent the
whole data set or capture the broad student experience. We kept returning to a persistent obser-
vation of the word careacross the narrative data, as well as consistent use of the language of calm,
peaceful and refreshed in student responses, used across contexts and purposes to describe the
impacts of the field trip experience. This observation led us to re-code all open-ended responses
with a focus on care, relationships, place, wellbeing and responsibility. With this revised codebook,
we deductively re-coded all of the data, leading to the themes and categories in Table 3.
We also calculated the frequency of the Likert-scale responses from the post-experience ques-
tionnaire relevant to this focus on care, relationships, place, wellbeing and responsibility. This
quantitative analysis validates our qualitative results. One author was the primary coder; she
met weekly with another author over the course of a year to co-code data, discuss observations,
detail findings and interpret results.
Table 3. Codebook example for open-ended responses
Category Description Theme Example
Passive sense
of place: cared
for by place
(n =26)
Students feel restored, peaceful
or calm during or after the field
trip and attribute this feeling to
the forest experience
Restoration, feeling
cared for in response
to particular activity
(n =22)
I remembered the sensory walk
at the beginning and how
peaceful that was. It was like
nothing else existed
Restoration, feeling
cared for attributed to
the whole field trip
experience (n =14)
I am in a better mood [as a
result of the trip], and I am
almost at peace with my
thoughts and everything. Itsa
great way to refresh yourself
Active sense of
place: intention
to care for
place (n =7)
Students express an intention to
care for place, demonstrating
agency as active participants in
the forest relationship
Intention to care for
the natural world
(n =7)
Seeing the beauty of pristine
nature makes me want to clean
up the world and make all of it
look like this
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Results revealed two types of place relationships that emerged as a result of the DT experience: (1) a
passive place relationship, whereby learners express a sense of restoration as a result of the place experi-
ence, or a recognition of being cared for by place and (2) an active place relationship, whereby learners
express a responsibility or intention to care for the place, expressing agency in the place relationship.
Qualitative analysis
Passive place relationship
Every student (n =26) reported feeling restored by some or all of the DT experience, demonstrating a
positive physical and emotional response to the field trip they attributed directly to the forest experi-
ence. These relationships were utilitarian, in that the forest provided something asenseofcalmor
feeling cared for to the students. Codes used to identify this category, taken directly from student
language, include calm, peaceful, quiet, mood shift, relaxed, nice,refreshed, rejuvenated, pure and free.
Many students attributed these feelings of restoration to the silent sensory walk, the only trail
activity where they are asked to reflect on the specific experience, rather than on the holistic DT
experience, which explains why much the data references this part of the trail. Following the silent
sensory walk, students were asked: How did it feel to walk alone in the forest? Please share three
words. Twenty-one (of 26) participants used words that directly described restoration and calm,
for example: calming, refreshing, nice. Only one student did not have a positive experience on the
sensory walk, sharing the words: hungry, tired, out of breath. But this same student did have a
restorative experience on the trail as a whole. In response to the post-trip questionnaire multiple-
choice question: What do you most value about the forest?, this student chose: beauty from a list of
provided responses (e.g., wood products, shade, clean water, carbon storage, peace and quiet,
beauty, hiking and camping, inspiration, the place for plants or animals to thrive, etc.) and
explained, because it makes you calm. Across the student responses, beauty was consistently
mentioned as the reason students felt cared for by the forest, providing them entrance to an
enjoyable forest experience and positive feelings about the place.
Sensory engagement with the wider trail experience also sparked feelings of restoration. A num-
ber of students attributed calm feelings to specific interpretive stops, including sound mapping and
searching for shades of green, which drew attention to the role of particular senses in participating
with the landscape. Other students associated these feelings with more general sensory engagement
with place, for example, feeling cool temperatures or hearing rushing water during their time on the
trail. Finally, many students described the field trip experience in its entirety as relaxing or reported
that they learned how to be relaxed as a result of the experience. For example, in open-ended
responses about what they value most about the forest, 10 (of 26) students referred to restoration,
calm and care. One wrote, I love trees and the peace of being alone with my thoughts. Another
shared, Really, its the beauty of the forest that makes it peaceful and relaxing. Similarly, in response
to the post-trip reflection questions: (1) What do you remember about the Discovery Trail experience?
and (2) Please share 1 word to describe your experience on the Discovery Trail, students (n =10 and
11, respectively) shared words like calm,peaceful,tranquiland relaxing. As a follow-up, stu-
dents were then asked: Describe the moment that captures the word you chose. The responses dem-
onstrated poetic and reflective language that mirrored the eSAH content of the trail. For example,
one student shared: Rejuvenating. Cool breeze flowing through the trees, chilling my face. Warm
vibrant sunlight hitting my body. Another wrote: Peaceful. Standing in the spot where you can see
the water when the light was breaking through the shade.
Active place relationship
Seven of 26 (27%) participants transcended the passive place relationship by recognising the forest
as an otherworthy of care or respect. Codes in this category include care, caring, preserve,
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maintain, treat better, respect, more involved, clean and help. Learners demonstrated this agency in
response to open-ended questions on the post-trail questionnaire. In response to the question:
One of the themes on the trail is place: Observing place, learning about place, understanding rela-
tionships in place and attending to our impacts to place. How did the trail experience help you think
about or understand the place in a new way?, Seven students expressed an intention to care for the
place, forests, nature or ecosystems. For example, one student shared that the experience made me
think what a beautiful place we live in and that we should keep our forest healthy ::: and respect
[it]. Beauty was a motivating factor for a number of studentsintention to care; to them, protect-
ing a place means to keep it beautiful. Maintaining cleanliness and safety was also another moti-
vator for an intention to care. One student shared that the DT experience made me realise how
taking care of the environment provides a safe place for all animals and plants. Another wrote,
My home is clean so I should keep the forest clean, too. Other reasons used to justify an intent to
care for the forest or place include ensuring forest health, limiting forest harvest, using only what
we need and reducing human impacts.
This burgeoning sense of responsibility moves the forest relationship beyond one of the services
towards an ethical calling to do what is right by extending care and wellbeing to more-than-hu-
man nature. Likert responses on the post-trail questionnaire support these observations. When
asked to list the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement: The Discovery
Trail experience increased my appreciation for forests, 17 participants (67%) agreed or strongly
agreed. When asked to list the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement: The
Discovery Trail experience increased my appreciation for the living things in forests, 16 participants
(60%) agreed or strongly agreed. Based on an ecological ethic of care, appreciation is a pre-
condition for respect (Hill, 1994), and respect is a prior commitment necessary for care
(Engster, 2005). The studentsappreciation of beauty expresses an element of specialness, some-
thing they value and appreciate about the forest. This value becomes the motivator for their
intention to act in caring ways. Therefore, the Likert responses, which give insight into the students
appreciation, illuminate a possible bridge between a passive and an active sense of place. While
standalone Likert responses do not have descriptive strength, they do highlight important self-
report data about the broad student experience that support the qualitative observations.
These findings are important for environmental education scholarship in three ways. First, the
most sense of place literature suggests that repeated interactions with place are necessary to culti-
vate emotional attachments to place (Kudryavtsev et al., 2012; Semken et al., 2009). There is little
research on the sense of place impacts during short-term place investigations. Our research begins
to address this gap. Short-term place engagement can impact place relationships in ways that
might lead to learner awareness of being placed, or cognizant of being in relationship with places
more widely. This includes a potential recognition of the kinds of responsibilities relationships of
this nature might demand. While little research explores these outcomes empirically, the schol-
arship does suggest deepened place relationships as a result of place-based experiential learning
(see Ardoin, 2006; Semken & Freeman, 2008). We suggest that the passive and active place rela-
tionships we observed on the DT describe the types of experiences this literature suggests might
contribute to a wider sense of place.
Second, little empirical work explores eSAH curricula on learning about and engaging with
place, even as eSAH activities are expanding across universities, agencies and nonprofits for out-
reach, engagement and informal education (Ellison et al., 2017; NAS, 2018). The LTER network
specifically has a long relationship with eSAH activities, though research on the impact of this
activity is recent (Goralnik, Nelson, Gosnell, & Ryan, 2015; Goralnik, Nelson, Gosnell, &
Leigh 2017). Despite the limited empirical investigation of eSAH, the literature suggests that deep
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interdisciplinary environmental learning for example, integrated science, arts and humanities
can catalyze important cognitive, moral and affective growth (Goralnik & Nelson, 2015; Staples
et al. 2019). Incorporating arts and humanities approaches like creative narrative, visual art and/or
values reflection alongside experiential science-driven enquiry can foster emotional attachment to
both human and nonhuman communities (Goralnik & Nelson, 2011; Treanor, 2014; York, 2014).
Scholars across disciplines argue that sensory-rich experiences can inspire learners to connect to
place and cultivate virtues like respect, empathy and care (Dickinson, 2011; Gruenewald, 2003a).
Our research is the first attempt we have identified that explores the implications of eSAH cur-
ricula directly. We hope this contribution opens the door to more work in this area.
Finally, digital curriculum is an innovative way to engage learners, providing opportunities for
a rich, well-rounded and dynamic group experience. The iPads provide opportunities for non-
invasive assessment and data collection; they also provide a solution to limited site staff capacity.
Digital technology can provide meaningful field experiences for learners with disabilities (see
Atchinson, 2011), as well as support a number of learning benefits, including individualisation,
portability, information sharing, motivation and understanding (Kacoroski, Liddicoat, & Kerlin,
2016; McClain & Zimmerman, 2016). There is some concern, though, about the limitations of
technology in learning environments (Mohammed, 2019). One can also imagine reactions to
the use of technology in field-based contexts in particular. This suggestion is supported by little
empirical research (McCLain & Zimmerman, 2016), and a recent study of an iPad-mediated out-
door learning experience in fact showed the opposite: students were distracted by nature away
from the iPads, rather than vice versa (Kacoroski et al., 2016). Our results, while preliminary,
provide evidence that digital learning in a remote context can facilitate meaningful relationships
with place. A deeper investigation is necessary to understand how this engagement compares to
the same experience without technology.
Limitations and future research
The exploratory nature of our research limits our ability to identify which aspects of the curricu-
lum or place experience catalyse particular emotional responses. Additionally, results from our
small participant sample are not generalisable. Challenges with the consent/assent process limited
the data available for use in the study. We have addressed these logistical hurdles. Working with
the iPads also presented some challenges. Typing on a digital keyboard can be time-consuming,
likely discouraging some level of response detail. We have streamlined the trail enquiry, including
more multiple-choice and fewer open-ended questions. We expect this change will lead to more
developed narrative responses in the future.
Field trip investigations provide an opportunity to explore the impacts of short-term place inves-
tigation, including the development of an awareness of place as relational other. This is an out-
come that requires learners both to study a place and also feel something in that place. A
curriculum that bridges science, arts and humanities (eSAH) can foster this integrated cognitive
and affective experience.
As learners develop an awareness of being placed exploring what they value, imagining
through multiple perspectives, comparing observations across places and gaining an awareness that
place is not just background, but a storied context they participate in they cultivate important
skills and empathy that can transcend the field trip experience. We contend that this kind of field
trip-initiated relationship can prime learners for deeper and more emotionally invested place rela-
tionships with their own places. Our findings describe two primary place relationships that emerged
as a result of an eSAH field learning experience: passive and active place relationships, describing
learner awareness of place as an entity that either provides for their wellbeing (passive) or for whom
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they feel compelled to care for (active). We did not collect background information on students
previous experience in landscapes similar to the HJA, but we suspect that place relationships occur
on a continuum, and that certain background factors provide the receptivity necessary to transcend
passive place relationships to the more ethically motivated active place relationships. In this vein, we
suggest that repeat learning experiences of this kind, whereby place is engaged as a relational other
with opportunity for reflection, creative imagining and intellectual engagement, might facilitate
deeper emotional connectivity with places in general over time. More research is necessary to
explore the trajectory of place relationships and their connection to a sense of place.
For students to experience any kind of peace or restoration on a field trip experience is encour-
aging, not just for the place relationship development this suggests but also because a sense of
restoration in nature is tied to more effective information processing, attention and memory
(Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008; Kaplan, 1995), all the important learning outcomes. That more
than 25% of our participants experienced something even richer, demonstrating ethical growth by
expressing agency for the care of the place, is exciting. While more research is needed, our study
suggests that deeply interdisciplinary short-term place investigation is one way to achieve these
outcomes. Short-term experiences in place can be impactful, especially when we attend not just to
what students are learning, but how they are encouraged to be learners and observers. A focus on
self-directed, interdisciplinary, sensory-rich experiences can shift the ways students engage with
places and landscapes more generally.
Acknowledgements. We conducted this research at H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, which is funded by the US Forest
Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. We would also like to acknowledge Adam Kennedy, whose work with the digital
curriculum and database management made this project possible, and Ginny White, Chris Smith and Matt Viehdorfer, who
developed the application and database for the digital curriculum.
Financial Support. We appreciate the support of an anonymous donor to the Discovery Trail.
Conflicts of Interest. None.
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Lissy Goralnik is an Assistant Professor of environmental studies in the Department of Community Sustainability at
Michigan State University. Her work lies at the intersection of environmental ethics, experiential learning, and community
engagement, with a focus on environmental science, arts, and humanities intersections; place studies; and wellbeing. She has
been leading environmental education research on the Discovery Trail since 2013.
Sarah Minette Kelly is the Outdoor School Director at Whole Earth Nature School in Eugene. She creates and provides
inclusive, trauma-informed programming to inspire students to connect with and care for self, others and environment, work-
ing within a larger movement to dismantle unjust systems impacting youth, marginalised communities and nature. Sarah
coordinated Discovery Trail field trip logistics and conducted research on the student experience while pursuing her
M.A. in Environmental Arts & Humanities from Oregon State University in 2016 through 2018.
Kari OConnell is a Senior Researcher at the STEM Research Center at Oregon State University. Her research focuses on
authentic field learning experiences, from K-12 students through undergraduate level, with a specific emphasis on access
and inclusion. She has been involved with the Schoolyard LTER program at the Andrews Forest since 2008 and is currently
PI of the Undergraduate Field Experiences Research Network
Michael Paul Nelson holds the Ruth H. Spaniol Chair in Renewable Resources and is the Professor of Environmental Ethics
and Philosophy at Oregon State University. He serves as the Lead Principal Investigator for the HJ Andrews Experimental
Forest Long-Term Ecological Research Program.
Mark Schulze is the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Director. His research training is in forest ecology. He has been in-
volved in the development of the Discovery Trail since 2011.
Cite this article: Goralnik L, Kelly SM, OConnell K, Nelson MP, and Schulze M. Forest discovery: place relationships on an
environmental science, arts and humanities (eSAH) field trip. Australian Journal of Environmental Education.
12 Lissy Goralnik et al.
available at
Downloaded from Michigan State University Libraries, on 18 Dec 2020 at 04:45:53, subject to the Cambridge Core terms of use,
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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