DeforestACTION at ISTE 2012

On Wednesday of this year’s annual ISTE Conference in San Diego, I learned about DeforestACTION, a global collaborative project by and for students around the world. I found the story of this organization extremely inspiring. And, I think it’s a great example of how digital media enables kids to take real-world action to solve enormous global issues.

Conservationist Dr. Willie Smits and science teacher Christopher Gauthier shared stories about how the organization works and what young people have accomplished through their involvement with DeforestACTION. The concept for DeforestACTION was developed by a group of 90 students representing 12 schools across the Asia Pacific region. They came together to focus on one critical global issue, and they decided their largest concern was deforestation. 

The project has several components. One is that these students wanted a group of people representing them on site in the threatened rainforests. They wanted first-hand accounts and a way to connect directly with the communities affected by deforestation, so they set up a prodedure for selecting these representatives, who they called “Eco-Warriors.” In late 2011 and early 2012, fifteen Eco-Warriors, ages 18-35, made two trips to Borneo for a total of 100 days. They went to learn about the communities affected by deforestation, to gain first-hand knowledge to share with students involved in DeforestACTION, and to provide the communities in Borneo with resources and information to help them protect their forests. While on site, the Eco-Warriors conducted webinars with classrooms across the world and monitored reports coming from the Earthwathers, another component of DeforestACTION.

The Earthwatchers program enables students across the globe to monitor sections of the rainforest and use social networking features to alert other Earthwatchers as well as Eco-Warriors on site in Borneo of any evidence of deforestation they observe. The Eco-Warriors can then notify locals in the villages, so they can take action to prevent the destruction that is taking place.

Earthwatch Deforestation

This image shows the plot of rainforest that I have committed to monitor. With the Earthwatchers tool, I have access to multiple satellite images from a range of dates allowing me to compare changes in the forest over time. I can also use a filter to see roads, which allows me to monitor the building of roads, often an indication of encroaching palm oil plantations. I can place an alert on my parcel if I see a noticable change, and other Earthwatchers can analyze my parcel data and provide input regarding my observations.

The story that Christopher Gauthier shared with the ISTE attendees was a powerful example of connected learning. The students in his class were so passionate about the DeforestACTION campaign, they fundraised $5000 to send him as their representative to Borneo. While in Borneo, Gauthier learned of a conflict between the villagers of a certain community and a company attempting to clear a section of nearby forest. The villagers prevailed. And from what I understand, Gauthier found out that the Eco-Warriors learned of the palm oil company’s movements thanks to students around the world monitoring the forest with Earthwatchers.

It’s one thing for educators to help raise awareness about deforestation in science classrooms. It’s another for students to stop an actual incident of deforestation from happening in the jungles of Borneo thousands of miles away.