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Building Sustainable Communities through the Digital Global Classroom


Erica Smithwick,
Neil Brown,

About the Project

Building Sustainable Communities through the Digital Global Classroom was funded by Penn State's Sustainability Institute's Reinvention Fund at the University Park campus in the amount of $35,600.

The project goal is to build digital learning capacity and a scalable model of technology transfer to build a truly global Penn State classroom. The project team aims to bridge ongoing resident and global learning partnerships to enhance teaching and learning experiences about parks, protected areas, and sustainable communities. They will enable this learning community in South Africa through the establishment of Living Lab Points– nodes of community engagement on sustainability that utilize technology to link African students and communities with Penn State resident courses. These linkages will broaden the educational experiences of resident Penn State undergraduates, Penn State undergraduates studying in South Africa, as well as Penn State K-12 students and teachers, African students (K-12, undergraduate, and graduate) and local communities. They imagine a long-term goal of a network of Living Lab Points across Africa, building on faculty expertise in local regions. Once established, these Living Lab Points can be the focal point for distributed online courses, can be augmented by mobile learning capacity, and can foster scientific research activities and collaborations.

Engagement methods
The team believes that “Penn State Lives Here” reflects a commitment to place-based learning about and within local and global communities. Penn State must live fully and richly in local Pennsylvania communities and realize that learning about local is both informed by, and has the potential to transform, local communities in a global context. They will use social media, videos, and classroom experiences to engage participants in story-telling about resource management in their community. They will distribute these stories online in a way that is both dynamic (tweets, blogs) and global (video case-studies in the global context). Using a flipped classroom approach, this content will be used to use classroom and out-of-classroom educational experiences focused on sustainable resource management.

Latest News
  • Living Lab Point
    They will use and contribute to the development of the community center and technical hub of the Donald Woods Foundation. Recently, the Donald Woods Foundation has constructed a state-of-the-art facility in the community. This facility provides the safe, convenient, and technically sound place for the team to house our learning environment. 

  • Digital Storytelling
    They have begun to use sustainability case-study videos in the resident Penn State classroom. Working with the e-Dutton Institute, the team used mini-modules based around video content from the Parks & People program to explore conservation and sustainability challenges in the global context. Another set of video modules explored green infrastructure in the local State College and Penn State community. Students in the Parks & People program used i-books in March 2014 to capture individual video stories of their experience. The team is continuing to work with Penn State experts in story-telling, online education, and video production to improve and expand on these learning modules.

  • Storytellers Project
    Carla Zembal-Saul and three educator colleagues piloted a storytellers project in SP14 with Parks & People students and South African school children. The project integrated three strands – cultural connections (via Xhosa folktales), English language learning (via dramatic performances), and science learning (via connections to the life science curriculum). Artifacts include video of students' dramatic performances, video of the process of project development, students' illustrated books with Xhosa/English translation.

  • Science Fest
    The project team will use the Donald Woods Foundation community center to host a Science Fest focused on educational activities about health and the environment. This event will be open to teachers, students, and the community and will be supported pedagogically by Penn State and Penn State students and faculty. They will use this opportunity to develop video content and create partnership opportunities with innovative leaders in the broader Eastern Cape community which will then be used as part of the video stories in the Penn State classroom.