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Interactive Cultural Ecology On Line

The pictures are part of a sequence taken on holiday in Costa Rica.

This blog is a development of


ICOL is an informal not-for-profit UK organisation that networks schools, communities and individuals with digital learning resources for curriculum development and lifelong-learning. Its purpose is to help turn the United Nation's 2030 Agenda, aimed at living sustainably, into local action plans for the benefit of future generations.

ICOL's aim is to introduce the 2030 Agenda into learning environments with a portfolio of free, customisable digital resources that can be added to and networked by organisations and individuals. ICOL has adopted the project 'Rescue Mission' as the model for international networking on line. Rescue Mission was a response of young people after the Rio 1992 Environment Summit to establish a global democracy of youth to meet the UN's targets.

ICOL’s digital resources use cultural ecology as a cross-subject knowledge framework promoted with 3 hosted domains, 19 Wikis, and 20 Google Sites produced by teachers, integrated through a blog (between 10 and 30 registrations per day) and social networking using Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest. Site analytics for the Wikis and two of the hosted domains record a steady flow of between 300,000-400,000 unique international visitors year on year. A Google search for ‘cultural ecology’ reveals over a million websites. The Wikipedia entry, produced by ICOL, is top of this list followed by two entries for ICOL’s home website,, at positions 5 and 6.

Since the early 1990s the cost of developing and maintaining ICOL has been met with grants from the European Community, UK Government Agencies and Commercial Organisations.

2 Dig That Pic

One of ICOL’s wikis ( is an experiment-in-progress involving researching and evaluating web based multimedia place-based picture-education in relation to the formation of visual sub-cultures. In particular it explores the connections between art, culture and ecology.

Today we are very much alive to a global culture with all its diversity being presented 24 hours a day through pictorial media. 'Dig(g) That Pic' is an educational experiment in which discrete information packages are presented as groups or sequences of pictures. Each picture-package is created as a slideshow/gallery/video narrative designed with words/music making a self contained educational art work It is an exploration of the concept of meta art as an art work composed of art works aimed to elicit social action.

Some useful definitions are:

Dig or digg

1 To learn or discover by careful research or investigation: dug up the evidence; dug out the real facts.

2 Slang

a. To understand fully: Do you dig what I mean?

b. To like, enjoy, or appreciate: "They really dig our music and, daddy, I dig swinging for them" (Louis Armstrong).

c. To take notice of: Dig that wild outfit.

Pic; informal for a photograph, picture or illustration “Would you like to see my holiday pics?”

PIC; acronym; platform for Internet content

3 A Wonderment Curriculum

A wonderment curriculum is led by the belief that values other than market values must be recognized and given importance and that the state of Nature provides the ultimate measure by which to judge human endeavours. A parent blogger put the need for a wonderment curriculum this way:

Children see the world through a fresh lens. It’s almost as if they have a better understanding of creation than we adults who are racing and organizing and pushing. They have the time to see the vibrant colours of a butterfly, the fluffiness of a cloud, the funny gait of a caterpillar. They wonder at the world around them almost as naturally as they breathe. We need to harness this wonderment. We need to take the natural curiosity and joy of learning and develop a curriculum based on WOW! Factors and ways of infusing information that correspond with this.

Unexpected encounters with creatures like the caterpillar offer us that “wow” factor and a sense of awe, that reminds us all just how amazing and diverse nature is, and draws us in to learn more. But even the most humble and commonplace organisms are doing amazing things in service to life. One of the most important roles for educators is to share those insights; to cultivate the “wow,” which ultimately opens the door to learning from nature, not just about nature.

Laurens van der Post, author, traveller and mystic, spent his life drawing our attention to the mismatch between humankind’s wants and needs. Since his death it is now commonplace to see that in the long run we have no choice but move towards a global society in which there cannot be any economic growth, market forces cannot be allowed to determine our fate, there must be mostly small and highly self-sufficient and self-governing settlements, mostly local economies, very little international trade, highly participatory political systems, and above all a willing acceptance of frugal lifestyles and non-material sources for life satisfaction. In the meantime, the best that education for sustainability can achieve within present socioeconomics is to inculcate a sense of wonderment in the natural world and teach the skills necessary to provide technical fixes to overcome inevitable future catastrophes.

Regarding educating for a sense of wonderment. Albert Einstein set out the thinking framework as follows:

“I have no doubt that our thinking goes on for the most part without use of signs (words) and beyond that to a considerable degree unconsciously. For how, otherwise, should it happen that we sometimes “wonder” quite spontaneously about some experience? This “wondering” appears to occur when an experience comes into conflict with a world of concepts already sufficiently fixed within us. Whenever such a conflict is experienced sharply and intensely it reacts back upon our world of thought in a decisive way. The development of this world of thought is in a certain sense a continuous flight from wonder.”

“A wonder of this kind I experienced as a child of four or five years when my father showed me a compass. That this needle behaved in such a determined way did not at all fit in the kind of occurrences that could find a place in the unconscious world of concepts (efficacy produced by direct “touch”). I can still remember — or at least believe I can remember — that this experience made a deep and lasting impression upon me. Something deeply hidden had to be behind things.”

Einstein’s childhood learning experience is in line with the research of George Loewenstein who wrote that curiosity arises, “...when attention becomes focused on a gap in one’s knowledge. Such information gaps produce the feeling of deprivation labeled curiosity. The curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation.”

Loewenstein’s theory helps explain why curiosity is such a potent motivator: it’s not only a mental state but also an emotion, a powerful feeling that impels us to search for information that will fill the gap in our knowledge.

Rachel Carson put it this way:

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength”.

The conventional educational belief is that by exposing people to the outdoors and immersing them in the workings of nature will elicit a deep sense of appreciation and wonderment. Van der Post’s standpoint is that only by finding our place in nature, and nature’s place within us, can we can truly address the environmental challenges we face today. His educational mission was to reconnect us to the natural world and to bring to our attention its role in sustaining human life on this planet. He sees us all as walking artists, hunter/ gatherers of stories about, place, memories and objects. His writings are a wake-up-call to the ecologist within us all. The educational home for this awakening is deep ecology, the environmental movement and philosophy which regards human life as just one of many equal components of a global ecosystem.

Taking this into account, the following core beliefs of a wonderment curriculum operate within the positive cycle of learning fuelled by curiosity and wonderment.

  • From birth, our innate curiosity drives us to wonder, explore, dream and discover.

  • Curiosity drives passion. “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious”. Albert Einstein

  • Promoting belonging and inclusion for all children to ignite and follow their passionate curiosity.

  • Education and learning should be a vehicle that ignites a child’s natural wonderment and curiosity encouraging them to ask why and why not.

Laurens van der Post followed this prescription in words, developing his ideas in the form of an ongoing philosophical travelogue. In summary his message was “There is a way in which the collective knowledge of mankind expresses itself, for the finite individual, through mere daily living… a way in which life itself is sheer knowing”.

Wonderment triggers poetry As well as pictures. John Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’ encapsulated the social value of poetry as a vehicle to express wonderment..

’ ‘We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for”.

4 Wonderlust

The aim of education for living sustainably is to prepare students for a world that will require them to learn continuously, to find and solve problems globally, to act with empathy so as to bring hope and equity to many and strive to live a life full of a passionate pursuit of beauty and wonderment. A wonderment curriculum is led by the belief that values other than market values must be recognized and given importance, and that Nature provides the ultimate measure by which to judge human endeavours.

A practical prescription is to live and learn pictorially in a state of profound wanderlust and wonder as da Vinci might have done. Leonardo da Vinci was a brilliant artist, scientist, engineer, mathematician, architect, inventor, writer, and even musician-the archetypal Renaissance man, but Fritjof Capra argues, he was also a profoundly modern. Not only did Leonardo invent the empirical scientific method over a century before Galileo and Francis Bacon, but Capra’s decade-long study of Leonardo’s fabled notebooks reveal him as a picture thinker centuries before the term systems thinking was coined. He believed the key to truly understanding the world was in perceiving the connections between phenomena pictorially to reveal the larger patterns formed by those pictorial wow-factor relationships.

5 Visual Literacy

If we think of literacy as reading and writing words, visual literacy can be described as the ability to both interpret and create meaningful visuals. With the constant, overwhelming flow of information and rapid communication today, both parts of this modern literacy equation are non-negotiable Our brains are wired to rapidly make sense of and remember visual input. Visualizations in the form of diagrams, charts, drawings, pictures, and a variety of other imagery can help students understand complex information. A well-designed visual image can yield a much more powerful and memorable learning experience than a mere verbal or textual description. Movies and still images have been included in learning materials for decades, but only now has faster broadband, cellular networks, and high-resolution screens made it possible for high-quality images to be a part of eLearning. Graphic interfaces made up of photos, illustrations, charts, maps, diagrams, and videos are gradually replacing text-based courses instead of augmenting them. We are now in the age of visual information where visual content plays a role in every part of life.

According to Lynell Burmark, an education consultant who writes and speaks about visual literacy:

“…unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information (plus or minus 2) […]. Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.”

Because of television, advertising, and the Internet, representing social facts pictorially as resources for learning through visuals is now the primary literacy of the 21st century. It’s no longer enough to read and write text. Students must learn to process both words and pictures. They must be able to move gracefully and fluently between text and images, between literal and figurative worlds.

Today, anyone with a digital camera and a personal computer can produce and manipulate an image. As a result, the power of the image has been diluted by the ubiquity of images and the many populist technologies (like inexpensive cameras and picture-editing software) that give almost everyone the power to create, distort, and transmit images. But it has been strengthened by the gradual capitulation of the printed word to pictures, particularly moving pictures . The ceding of text to image has been been likened to an articulate person being rendered mute, forced to communicate via gesture and expression rather than speech. It was as a storyteller that Laurens van der Post communicated to people in their millions. Our brains are far more engaged by storytelling than a list of facts–it’s easier for us to remember stories because our brains make little distinction between an experience we are reading about and one that is actually happening. But a point can be driven home even more effectively by images.. That’s because visuals add a component to storytelling that text cannot: speed. Research shows that, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text, which means you can paint a picture for your audience much faster with an actual picture. It’s no surprise then that tweets with images are 94% more likely to be retweeted than tweets without. This also points the way to the use of Internet media such as Pinterest (picture pinboards), Tumblr (picture blogs) Instagram (social networking of pictures) and Mindomo (mind mapping pictures) for mass education.

6 Introducing the WOW factor into education

picture education is about exposing students to the wow-factor. This focuses learning on the theory of multiple intelligences and particularly on spatial intelligence. There is a number of distinct forms of intelligence that each individual possesses in varying degrees. Gardner proposes eight primary forms: naturalistic, linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, body-kinesthetic, intrapersonal and interpersonal. A number of others also suggest an additional one: technological.

One implication of Gardner’s theory is that learning/teaching should incorporate the intelligences of each person. For example, if an individual has strong spatial intelligence, then spatial activities and learning opportunities should be used. A wonderment curriculum has to concentrate on the principles of picture production. It is probably true to say that all people to a greater or lesser extent possess spatial intelligence. It has been estimated that visual learners comprise 65 percent of the population, so crafted images are clearly key to engaging people in eLearning courses and making picture education accessible to most learners.

People with spatial intelligence (“picture smart” or visual smart) have the ability, or preference, to think in pictures. Spatial intelligent people create and use mental images; enjoy art, such as drawings, and sculpture, use maps, charts, and diagrams; and often remember with pictures through the process of mind mapping.

The other thing that picture education is about is the feeding of wanderlust. Wanderlust is defined as the desire to gather knowledge by seeing new things and is usually applied in the context of the urge to travel. According to Miriam Websters Dictionary, the definition of Wanderlust is simply “a strong desire to travel”. It comes from the German language and is spelled Wanderlust. It is a relatively new word, dating back to the beginning of this millennium. These days the world is explored and presented through wanderlust images, when the traveller goes forth for pleasure or for political, aesthetic and social meaning.

Andrew Delaney, Director of Creative Content at Getty Images explains Wonderlust (sic.) Imagery as: “Images that inspires a sense of awe. They are images that are connecting us with our surroundings and elicit a reaction of wonder when you see them.”

Here are some of Delaney’s key points for teachers wishing to produce their own Wanderlust Imagery:

  • Work with depth.

  • Play with colour and texture.

  • Give a sense of the unknown.

  • Don’t worry about showing “bad weather”.

  • Mother Nature is often the “hero” in the image.

  • Be very aware of scale and effective composition.

  • Catch the particles in the air to diffuse the light e. g. smoke or dust.

  • Experiment with a wider crop. Embrace the 16:9 format to illustrate the scale of nature.

  • Dare doing a non-extreme sports shoot. A contemplating feel is often more welcomed.

  • Make pictures that are inclusive, that makes you wish you were there. Sometimes cliché works.

  • You don’t always have to show the entire object to get other to understand what you are saying. Don’t be afraid of cropping.

  • Use a subtle approach to colour rendering. Colour pallets are becoming more subtle. Man and nature are becoming more blended.

Delaney makes some interesting points when talking about authenticity of the image. The concept of Point of View (POV) photography can sometimes be very effective when trying to evoke a feeling with the viewer, because it is about enjoying what that person behind the camera is enjoying. He says: “Be prepared to either discover it, or create a set of circumstances where the moment happens and you are there to photograph it.” Another of his tips is to try to be present and do your best to catch the decisive moment. It is not about controlling a shoot, but creating a shooting window, where as a period of actions happens and you step out of it to record what happens,

“When the editors at Getty first look at a picture, they see if it works emotionally. Technical qualities are secondary but can sometimes add authenticity. Flare, backlight, a crooked horizon, blown highlights, or excessive grain/noise can all evoke emotions and helps with nostalgia. This must however be done delicately.”

“All pictures today live or die on the basis of how they look as a thumbnail – which means you absolutely got to get your composition right”. If your picture doesn’t read as a thumbnail, it’s going to die. It is not going to get clicked on. The client of ours is not going to go to the next step of investigating an image if it fails the test of what it looks like as a thumbnail. It’s got to look good”.

The concept of accessing a photographic point of view is central to generate the motivation to travel in order to experience the point of view first hand. Travel needs and motives reveal educational needs because they stem from an inner feeling of wanting to learn about new places and things, further fuelled by external pull factors that promise just that. This contemporary type of explorer has a fairly clear idea where she wants to go and she is not travelling away from her home (such as it is the case with escape), she is travelling toward a fixed destination. Her basic need springs from the feeling of a deficiency that she has encountered in her home environment. This deficiency (contrary to a lack) is subjective and a social construct. If the traveller’ nowadays described as a tourist, is not capable of satisfying this deficiency (with its corresponding need), she has to look for other ways to continue.

The first aim of an escape is to gain distance from one’s home environment. It is like living in between two realities: the home environment that has been left behind, and the destination where one is physically present but not as a part of it; this is a betwixt and between situation that is also referred to as liminality. The alienation of the home environment during the period of being a traveller refers to a space-related liminality, wherein places that themselves are liminal, such as beaches (between land and sea), are usually preferred. Profound changes in the way that place and time are experienced as a result of accelerated globalization have led to a new questioning of identity, the self and the place people take in this world. Not only are ways of living leading to a sense of loss of identity, for many individuals computerized work conditions and everyday roles impose constraining and monotonous routines in which individuals find it difficult to pursue their self-realization. Many theories on motivation and needs to be satisfied have used this model as a basic educational outline. Pearce applied it to the case of tourism and combined it with the tourist’s experience. He proposed five layers of holiday motivations:

  • relaxation (rest <> active)

  • stimulation (stronger emotions)

  • social needs (family, friends)

  • self esteem (self development through cultural, nature or other activities)

  • self-realization (search for happiness)

Travel needs and motives follow these different levels, the first two being the most common. It should be noted that this model is based on the Western world and in those parts where community life is especially valued, the ultimate goal is often not self realization but being able to serve the group, for example.

Through the works of Laurens van der Post there runs a thread demonstrating intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. Overall his writings are a philosophical travelogue, communicated in words. They illuminate the capacity of humanity’s inner life to distinguish the evils of modern civilisation, the life-enhancing wonders of primitive (especially Bushman) culture, and for communicating ecstatically detailed sunsets, sunrises, lions, elephants, bees, and extraordinary facts about the wilderness of (it seems) South-West Africa. His writings are short on pictures. This is a feature of the times when they were written. A large body of research indicates that visual cues help us to better retrieve and remember information. The research outcomes on visual learning make complete sense when you consider that the human brain is mainly an image processor (much of our sensory cortex is devoted to vision), not a word processor. In fact, the part of the brain used to process words is quite small in comparison to the part that processes visual images.

Mystery, enchantment, and wonder figure in our psychological and emotional well-being. WOW! and It’s Awesome! are exclamations that communicate an experience that has had a powerful effect on our body and mind..

They express two core qualities:

  1. Perceived vastness — something we think to be greater than ourselves in number, scope, or complexity,

  2. A challenge or experience that alters our understanding of the world.

Both exclamations are the outcome of an instant when you can’t quite grasp something. It feels like magic, amazement, mystery, reverence. It’s the moment when we realize it’s a gift and privilege to be alive. WOW and AWE can be triggered by different things for different people. It can result from profound beauty; spending time in nature; feeling connected to others; remarkable human accomplishments; scientific discoveries; or great works of architecture, art, and music.

It doesn’t matter what pathway it takes, or what your belief system is, or what the story is. We just want to feel it. What is important is…to be moved.” Curiiosity is vital to human survival and social function. Thus the fostering, development and preservation of curiosity stimulate the imagination. For that reason, doing those things which develop, nurture and foster curiosity and imagination takes on moral force and doing those things which tend to stifle these capacities is morally problematic.


Appendix 1 Format for a Pinterest Prize Draw


Pic It!

Open your eyes to the wonders linking nature with people

Express them with Photographs and Creative Writing

Dig deeper to satisfy your curiosity

Communicate your wonderment via social media

And spread messages about living sustainably

You enter the prize draw by submitting a Pinterest pinboard you have produced with pins (pictures) taken at one or more of the nature reserves managed by the South and West Wales Wildlife Trust.

Each picture should have text telling why you think each picture has a WOW factor and the covering text should tell a story of what moved you to take the pictures and assemble the pins.


The educational context may be seen at:

These are the rules which apply to your participation in ICOL’s Pinterest Prize Draw. By submitting your entry you agree to these rules. If you do not agree, please do not submit your entry.

1. The promoter of the prize draw is the not for profit organisation, ‘Interactive Cultural Ecology On Line’ (ICOL). The promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Pinterest.

2. The prize draw is open to pupils of Pembrokeshire schools, excluding anyone associated with ICOL, their immediate family, or any person or company associated with the draw.

3. The prize is for one winner only, judged by ICOL in the first week of the calendar month following on from the closing date for entries. .The result is final and no discussion will be entered into concerning the outcome.

4. The prize is …....

5. The winner will be notified through ICOL’s messaging system.

6. Any personal information and contact details you supply will be used only for the purposes of administering the competition.

7. ICOL reserves the right to amend these terms and conditions or to cancel, alter or amend the draw or the prize due to any circumstances that arise beyond our control.

13. The prize draw is subject to the laws of England and Wales.


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