Promoting community socio-ecological sustainability through technology: A case study from Chile

Abstract

The importance of community learning in effecting social change towards ecological sustainability has been recognised for some time. More recently, the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools to promote socio-ecological sustainability has been shown to have potential in community education for sustainable development (ESD). The effective design and use of technology for community learning implies an understanding of a range of cross-dimensional factors including: socio-cultural characteristics and needs of the target audience; considerations of available and culturally responsive types of technology; and non-formal pedagogical ESD strategies for community empowerment. In addition, both technology itself and social communities are dynamically evolving and complex entities. This article presents a case study which evaluated the potential of ICT for promoting ecological literacy and action competence amongst community members in southern Chile. The case study addressed the ecological deterioration of a lake, which is having deep social, economic, recreational and cultural implications locally. The authors’ research involved developing a theoretical framework for the design, implementation and use of ICT for community learning for sustainability. The framework was based on key ideas from ESD, ICT and community education, and was underpinned by a systems thinking approach to account for the dynamism and complexity of such settings. Activity theory provided a frame to address overarching socio-cultural elements when using technology as a mediating tool for community learning. The authors’ findings suggest that the use of an ICT tool, such as a website, can enhance ecological literacy in relation to a local socio-ecological issue.

Résumé

Promouvoir la viabilité socio-écologique locale grâce à la technologie : étude de cas au Chili – L’intérêt de l’apprentissage communautaire en vue d’un changement social favorisant la pérennité écologique est établi depuis un certain temps. Plus récemment, les technologies de l’information et de la communication (TIC) utilisées dans l’optique de promouvoir la viabilité socio-écologique démontrent leur potentiel dans l’éducation en vue du développement durable (EDD) au niveau local. Une conception et une utilisation efficaces de la technologie dans l’apprentissage communautaire impliquent la connaissance d’un ensemble de facteurs multidimensionnels tels que : caractéristiques et besoins socio-culturels du groupe cible, prise en compte des types de technologie disponibles et adaptés à la culture, stratégies pédagogiques non formelles d’EDD visant l’autonomisation de la communauté. Par ailleurs, à la fois les technologies et les groupes sociaux sont des entités complexes qui connaissent une évolution dynamique. Cet article présente une étude de cas qui évalue le potentiel des TIC à générer des compétences et des actions écologiques chez les membres d’une communauté dans le sud du Chili. Cette étude s’est penchée sur la dégradation écologique d’un lac, aux profondes répercussions sociales, économiques, récréatives et culturelles de cette communauté. Le travail des auteurs consistait à élaborer un cadre théorique pour la conception, la mise en œuvre et l’utilisation des TIC dans l’apprentissage communautaire en vue de la pérennité. Ce cadre se fonde sur des concepts clés de l’EDD, des TIC et de l’éducation populaire, et repose sur une approche systémique qui tient compte du dynamisme et de la complexité de ce type de situation. La théorie de l’activité a fourni un cadre permettant de traiter les éléments socio-culturels généraux dans l’usage de la technologie en tant qu’outil de médiation pour l’apprentissage communautaire. Les résultats des auteurs suggèrent que l’utilisation d’un outil TIC tel qu’un site électronique peut promouvoir la sensibilisation écologique en relation avec un problème socio-écologique local.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Amenity values comprise the appreciation of the pleasantness, aesthetic coherence and cultural and recreational attributes of a particular area.

  2. 2.

    Action competence is the “action” component in ESD which can lead towards real improvement of socio-ecological issues. This type of action must be done consciously, critically considered, and ideally targeted at root causes of issues.

  3. 3.

    A systems thinking approach refers to the capacity of interrelating and making connections between the range of dynamic elements composing the different dimensions of socio-ecological sustainability. A systemic approach refers to the science of systems thinking.

  4. 4.

    Transformative learning refers to the type of learning involving a “perspective transformation” in the understandings, beliefs and/or lifestyle of an individual. Transmissive learning is a learning process where knowledge, ideas and/or skills are learnt through purposeful demonstration and guidance (“transmission”).

  5. 5.

    Web 2.0 refers to the current capacities that most online websites have in terms of facilitating two-way sharing of information and collaborations between users, when compared to original websites (retrospectively thought of as Web 1.0) which were geared for one-way communication of information only.

  6. 6.

    Cultural-historical activity theory, or simply “activity theory”, is a meta-theory developed by Yrjö Engeström (1987) that provides conceptual elements to account for the social backgrounds and cultural historicity of human activity, including the dynamism and complexities of such environments.

  7. 7.

    While the terms Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Education for Sustainability (EfS) have similarities, and are both rooted in the term environmental education (EE), ESD tends to refer to a type of education centred around the concept of “development”, whereas EfS does not have such an explicit focus on “development” per se. Many scholars would even argue that EfS is in opposition to ESD in that very particular aspect. The terminology debate between ESD and EfS is ultimately a matter of scope and vision. We employ the term “EfS websites” here, as it is the original term we used as part of this research.

  8. 8.

    Complexity theory is a theory that emerges from complexity science, the field of knowledge that studies complex and chaotic systems, and investigates how order, patterns, structures, organisations and processes can arise and be found in them.

  9. 9.

    Constructivism is a learning theory that states people learn by constructing their own understanding and knowledge of the world by experiencing and reflecting on those experiences; thus, constructivist approaches to social learning refer to learning as being socially constructed by community members and social groups through social interactions.

  10. 10.

    Deductive coherence here refers to the process of reasoning from the general to the particular; with inductive emergent properties being the logical process, based on deductive coherence, where a set of premises believed to be true are combined to obtain a specific set of conclusions that can lead (emerge) into a set of properties.

  11. 11.

    Google Analytics is an online service which analyses website traffic.

  12. 12.

    SPSS (the acronym is derived from Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) is a statistical software package provided by IBM.

  13. 13.

    Interviews were carried out in Spanish and then transcribed, with key quotes translated into English by the principal researcher.

  14. 14.

    The term fluvial means that the lake is fed primarily by water from rivers and streams.

  15. 15.

    Anthropogenic refers to the influence of humans on nature.

  16. 16.

    Epistemological approaches refer to how “reality” as a phenomenon is understood. In this case, we follow a systemic epistemological view, meaning that we understand reality as being complex, dynamic and unpredictable. Methodological research approaches are the type of theoretical methods employed to make sense of the world under a certain epistemological viewpoint, in this case by making connections and finding patterns between different elements and components of the addressed socio-ecological setting employing activity theory.

  17. 17.

    The doctoral study (Aguayo 2014) was carried out at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, which supported the development of the website financially.

  18. 18.

    All reported names are pseudonyms. In addition, all quotations in this article have been taken from the recorded, transcribed and translated interviews (including questionnaires and surveys); being native Spanish speakers, participants responded in Spanish.

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Aguayo, C., Eames, C. Promoting community socio-ecological sustainability through technology: A case study from Chile. Int Rev Educ 63, 871–895 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-017-9685-7

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Keywords

  • community education
  • information and communication technology (ICT)
  • systems thinking
  • socio-ecological sustainability
  • activity theory
  • transformative learning