Increasing the impact of learning using smart technology

COBWEB Girls Close Up (1)By James Hodges

As a Senior Instructor at The Outward Bound Trust, I'm constantly looking at innovative ways to immerse young people into my outdoor classroom. The use of smart-technology and mobile devices is one such innovation that achieves just that.

For several weeks now I have been introducing my students at Aberdovey to a scheme called COBWEB*. COBWEB is a European research project, made up of 13 organisations from five countries to help empower 'citizen scientists' to collate and gather environmental data in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves through the use of smart-technology.

A tall order, some may think, for young people to exercise an interest in environmental monitoring. With the proliferation of social media and increased screen-time amongst the millennial generation, many young people are often accused of not having an interest in the natural world around us. However, through the clever application of smart-technology we've begun to observe something remarkable – a sort of reconnection between young people and nature.

I've seen this first-hand, with students who were seemingly uninterested, suddenly become actively engaged with the activity because of the use of this technology. Far from providing a barrier to the outdoors, gadgets, screens and cameras can actually provide us with important educational and development opportunities.

The more students I introduce to the COBWEB project the more I appreciate its potential. Only last week I was working with a group who were so immersed, they made it a competition to see who could collect the most records in the shortest time. School teachers too, have remarked how learning with technology can help create a greater level of participation amongst classes; there are also important links with the curriculum that could be explored. 

COBWEB Close UpThe benefits I can see are threefold:

  1. Students are more engaged in the learning process and are better informed about the natural environment around them.

  2. There are more opportunities for the students to actively participate, with the possibility of each of them having their own handheld device to learn from.

  3. The COBWEB project benefits, as the library of environmental data from the Dyfi Biosphere Reserve grows each and every week.

Using COBWEB has opened my eyes to the possibilities of using apps and smart technology in the outdoors. Whether it’s the use of video statements recorded on tablets, like in our Skills for Life Award, or geocaching with smart phones across the National Park – it seems to me like we’d be missing a trick if we didn’t use it!

For more information regarding COBWEB visit

You can follow James and his progress on Twitter here at: @JHodges_OBT

*EU FP7 reference number: 308513