The introduction of technology in education has significantly changed the way in which learning takes place. Collaborative learning can now take place over the internet via an number of social media applications, students of all ages can now study online without ever having to enter a classroom or physically be in the same place as the teacher. Students who are struggling academically can now get help from any number of sources such as Khan Academy where lessons are readily accessible. These are exciting times for educators and students. There has never been a time where information is so readily available to all. But technology, like most other things in life, is a double edged sword. It has significant benefits but can be detrimental if not used in balance.
A typical Australian high school classroom does not look all that different from one thirty years ago. The seats and desks are generally still in the same layout but one thing is different, there is likely to be a bank of computers, no longer a chalkboard but interactive whiteboards and in many cases, students are now bringing their own devices (BYOD) to the classroom. In playgrounds at break times, students can be seen huddled around their devices conversing with each other over social media while siting within speaking distance. Technology has significantly influenced the way in which school student acts in and out of the classroom and there is becoming an ever increasing reliance on technology across the educational spectrum.
The South Australian Government (2013) estimates a typical Australian child now spends less than two hours a day outside, approximately 87% spend more time indoors than outdoors and 4.5 hours a day in front of a screen. Zotti (2014)identifies a number of contributing factors for this shift (see figure 1). The desire for outdoors activity and time spent interacting with the world in which they live is fast being replaced by the virtual world of online gaming and social media.
Addiction to technology is becoming an issue for many children and it starts at a young age. The UK Daily Telegraph (2015) reported on a 4 year old child who was being treated for an addiction to her iPad. In addition to this, there have been instances recorded in the past 5 years of online gamers, who were apparently healthy young men dying after sitting at their workstation for several hours gaming in a virtual world (CNN, 2015).
It appears that for some, the virtual world is becoming the preferred environment for them to act their lives and learning. However, there is an increased understanding of the importance of the relationship between humans and the natural world. With that, an unusual occurrence has taken place as a result of the recent information technology revolution. A learning environment has emerged that has, in reality, been the backdrop against which humans have lived since the dawn of creation. As unusual as it sounds, nature has now become an emerging environment for learning where once it was the key environment where learning took place.
According to biologist E. O. Wilson, mankind has an innate and genetically determined affinity with the natural world which he termed "Biophilia” (Rogers, 2015). In architectural circles, the term "biophilic design" is used to describe the integration of nature into the built environment. To complement this, the emerging science of biomimicry, which takes lessons from nature and applies them to solve human problems is beginning to make its way into the classroom. The combination of these two relatively new and emerging areas could have a powerful effect on learning.
This paper discusses the emergence of biophilic design and biomimicry in educational contexts and its potential to transform learning, increase creativity and reduce stress through the deliberate embedding nature into a learning environment.
Figure 1: Factors contributiong to the shift from outdoors to indoors play. ( https://natureplaysa.org.au/have-we-become-a-nation-of-the-great-indoors)