TIPS' Logo Previous Cover The International Education Webzine TIPS' Logo 
Cover November 9, 1998

Birds That Know No Boundaries: An Information Age Learning Experience

The Second Article in the Iteachnet Series,
Issues in Technology and Education.

By Stuart Fleischer and Fred Daly
Walworth Barbour American International School, Israel

As educators we are in a state of transition. We are shifting from the paradigms of the industrial age to those yet undefined of the post-industrial information society. This is an inevitably frustrating and exciting time. Much of the infrastructure of our schools still reflects our industrial age values, but we are constantly teased and challenged by the prospect of the new. A compelling catalyst for change is the proliferation of information technologies, and the challenge comes not from "above" but from the children who are using the technologies to take control of their own learning.

In the transitional confusion we can detect certain trends. Students rather than teachers are posing questions. Curriculum is being defined by processes and not by inventories of facts. Learning outcomes are becoming unpredictable. Students are becoming more skilled in new technologies than their teachers are.

At the Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel we searched for projects that would provide a model post-industrial learning environment. Projects that would capture the imagination of students, and draw them into using information technologies to collect, manipulate, and present information. Projects that would grow by communication within a community of students, teachers and experts.

The Birds that Know No Boundaries project is based on research in bird migration. Bird migration studies, until recently, were based largely on ringing projects. Ringed birds would be released and hopefully recaptured, showing that the bird managed to get between the two points. The details of the journey were largely a mystery.

Satellite telemetry provides a means to follow migrating birds in real-time as they make their way between summer and winter habitats. Positional data is computed from signals that are relayed from radio transmitters fitted to migrating birds via satellites back to ground stations. This data is made available via the Internet.

Students can access the data and, by plotting positions on maps, they can follow the daily progress of the bird. Students adopt individual birds and become attached to the fate of the bird as it travels. The student acquires a detailed knowledge of the physical and political geography of the regions through which the bird passes. They become aware of climatic differences and local weather conditions.

The student's affinity for their bird naturally motivates questions. Why does the bird appear to remain at one location over a period of days? What kind of food is available on route? How does it fly? Why does it migrate? How did the migration pattern begin? What other animals migrate?

These questions draw students in different directions. Some look for stories about migrating birds from different cultures, some become fascinated by weather, others want to know more about bird navigation. The birds provoke the natural curiosity of the students.

Industrial age learning experiences are typically linear. The teacher makes linear plans and monitors students as they move in parallel through the carefully predetermined path. All the students follow the same path and learning outcomes are usually predictable and quantifiable. We believe that information age learning experiences will be more web-like in nature. The class will begin at the same point, but as students explore they will have to make choices. These choices will involve the student following their own interests with the teacher consulting, validating, and providing a broader view of possibilities.

The learning experiences described above have students working individually or in small groups collecting information, asking questions, doing more research, manipulating data, and finally presenting information in a variety of media. The "Birds" project provides rich opportunities for these experiences, in addition however the project provides opportunities for local activities beyond the classroom. Children in the industrialized world have become estranged from nature. Children spend less time in the natural world and little value is placed on their informally acquired knowledge. They are protected from the discomforts of weather and the complexities of the natural world and learn from condensed third hand experience in politically correct texts.

The allure and facility of technology mediated experiences deepen this detachment from nature. The "Birds" project offers opportunities for the direct experience of nature. At the local level students are introduced to local habitats where they observe birds and consider the relationship of the local bird species to other elements in the ecosystem. Students record observations in the field and construct nesting boxes which provide platforms for more controlled observation. In the migration season field trips are arranged to observe flocks of migrating birds, these trips are timed to coincide with the arrival of birds that have been followed remotely in the lab.

Students are introduced to broader issues of wildlife conservation and encouraged to become active in the ecology club. The "Birds That Know No Boundaries" program grew out of research, funded by the Israeli air force; to reduce the considerable damage caused by migrating birds. Corporate and government funding for environmental projects is essential for conservation efforts, and we hope to involve students in canvassing for funds to buy a transmitter and satellite time for a bird that would be released locally. Students would then be able to observe the release and to follow, in real-time, their adopted bird on its migratory adventures.

Local action will lead to global awareness, and global awareness will motivate local action. Beyond the vast research potential of the web lies the possibility of developing learning communities. Students, educators and experts with the common interest of bird migration will communicate and share information. Storks migrate between northern Europe and southern Africa. We would like the "Birds" program to develop into a convivial meeting place for students living on the migration route. Students will share their local and global knowledge, collaborate on projects and make friends.

Millennia of migration and adaptation have isolated human populations by geography, language, politics, wealth, and the beliefs that are avowed as exclusive truths. However, science has provided a "belief free" knowledge base and technologies that belong to anyone who can afford them. In this century we have begun to come to accept that we all share the same genetic knowledge, now being compiled in the Human Genome project, as we share the surface and fate of the planet, and the responsibility of powerful players.

Telecommunications, mass media, international trade and the Web are driving the globalization of knowledge. In the first World Culture Report for Unesco, Lourdes Arispe claims that data refutes the idea that globalization means cultural homogenization. She describes a stimulation of local cultures by inter-cultural contact and global markets. She also raises the challenge of "inter-culturality", of being able to live together. She suggests the Spanish term convivencia to describe a world of mutual support and cooperation.

As information age educators we need to need to have more than the technical skills required to integrate the new technologies into the old curriculum. We need a vision of the possibilities that technology offers humanity. We need directions and context to build learning environments in a complex and rapidly changing world. The Web offers a platform to build convivencia, to bridge geographic, political, and linguistic barriers. The web is a platform for celebrating the local in a global context.

As we watch our students follow birds across boundaries we find ourselves pulled irresistibly into new ways of thinking about learning. We see our students crossing industrial age boundaries into the information age.

Israeli and Palestinian schools are already involved in this project and we would like to invite international educators from Europe, Africa and the Middle East to join us in continuing to build this learning community.

For further information contact




Stuart Fleisher will be presenting at the ECIS Conference in Hamburg, Sunday November 22nd at 11am.

Visit the Migration Project, another high-quality quality iteachnet site for international education.

Previous Cover: The Head Search - Some Observations, By Larry N. Crouch

iteachnet-TIPS Logo Home
Past Issues
Prof Dev
TIPS' Logo 
opyright International Knowledge Networks, ©,1998.