Tuesday, August 3, 2010 - 11:10 AM

OOS 14-10: Images for humanity, science and the environment: Connecting multiple audiences to nature through photography

Molly Steinwald, A. John Bailer, and Richard E. Lee Jr. Miami University

Background/Question/Methods: If conservation efforts are to succeed in the long-term, the public majority must be scientifically and environmentally literate. Yet, environmental literacy necessitates awareness of and empathy towards nature, and in a time when the majority of the human population resides in urban and suburban environments, many people in the United States have little direct experience with nature—and the experience they do have is often through everyday encounters with nearby nature (e.g. small-scale nature that inhabits spaces near work places, schools, homes). To compound the problem, in the past couple decades, the increased dependence on visual technological tools as a means of learning, entertainment and communication (e.g. computers, internet, cellular phones, iPods), is related to the younger generations—the future stewards of the planet—being even more distanced from the natural world. However, recent and rapid developments in photographic technology have also created an opportunity by which technology can be used to reconnect—and perhaps connect for the first time—people, and particularly children, with their environment. And the medium of nature photography is becoming more commonly used both towards this end and for increasingly science content knowledge and knowledge about nature of science. Results/Conclusions: We here review and report on several projects across the United States that have used photography, actively and passively, to increase interest in, knowledge about, and active stewardship for nature. Projects reviewd include 1) nature photography workshops for local school children through Minnesota's “Digital Bridge to Nature” project, 2) citizen science photo documentation in Discover Life in America's All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory project in the Great Smoky Mountains (http://www.dlia.org/atbi/) 3) Antarctic research scientists communicating their work to Ohio classrooms local to the researchers' home institutions (http://frozenfly.edublogs.org/) via blogging with still imagey and interactive online Gigapan images, a project made possible through participation in Carnegie Mellon University's “Fine Outreach for Science” program (www.gigapan.org), and 4) local-based nature photography talks and exhibits stressing school-yard inquiry teaching methods and place-based education to K-12 educators enrolled in professional development courses with Project Dragonfly (www.projectdragonfly.org) at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, among others. Positive outcomes and challenges will be discussed, as will ideas for other potential ways educators and researchers have and can collaborate with nature photographers locally in order to engage parents, teachers and children in formal and informal environmental and science learning environments.