Learning to Look Slowly with Project Zero’s Out of Eden Learn

June 09, 2014
By Educator Innovator

Most people don’t complain of time moving too slowly. Busy schedules coupled with the constant barrage of information and new technologies buzzing around make weeks seem like just a few days and months seem to pass in a flash. News cycles refresh at a dizzying pace, and it’s often difficult to mull through the media traffic to get to the important points.

But if we slowed down and took a look around us, we might be surprised by the interesting, often amazing things getting swept up and lost in the whirlwind of everyday life.

This is the idea at the foundation of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk—a seven year walk across the world, retracing the migratory pathways  of our ancestors, using the digital realm to connect communities and explore the narratives we have to slow down to see.

Beginning in 2013 and continuing through 2020, Salopek will travel by foot from Ethiopia and end his journey at the southern tip of South America, checking in around the online “campfire” continually with dispatches from National Geographic, and pausing every 100 miles to make a  digital record of his location, called a “Milestone.” Out of Eden Learn, a project of Educator Innovator partner Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is a unique online community designed to accompany Out of Eden Walk, with classes, after school programs, and young people from around the world clustered into small, diverse learning groups to take a “slow looking” journey together.

Participants complete weekly activities, post their responses, and read and respond to others’ entries. Out of Eden Learn takes an activity as simple as walking around the neighborhood and documenting what’s seen and transforms these seemingly small moments into opportunities for greater social and cultural connectivity between peer groups around the world.

Though students can’t physically accompany Salopek on his travels, they are able to walk a parallel digital path to investigate global issues and come to understand their place in the world around them.  Like an evolving virtual field study, students are encouraged to carefully observe and engage with their communities and to then share their pictures, drawings, writings, and more.

In outlining the research goals for the initiative, Project zero hopes that by taking one of the learning journeys participants will develop:

  • Strategies for slowing down to engage in close looking and careful listening
  • A curiosity to learn more about people and places that are not familiar to them
  • New insights into their own lives, communities, and identities
  • Strategies for situating their own lives within broader geographic and historic contexts
  • An inclination and ability to make connections across context, time, and place
  • A range of communication skills, including telling stories and interacting with people from varied backgrounds

Educators interested in participating in a learning journey should sign up to have their classes or groups (ranging in size from one home-schooled student to a group of 40 students) assigned to a learning group, known as a “walking party.” Walking parties consist of five to six groups from different locations connecting and learning together.

 Take a look at a recent Out of Eden Learn webinar below to get a better understanding of the project.

With generous support from the Abundance Foundation, the Out of Eden Learn community is open to all schools and students, free of charge.