Archive for July, 2022

Networking Nature With Postcards

Monday, July 4th, 2022


1  Introduction

Wales has many firsts in environmental education and a postcard educational database was invented by Welsh teachers in the late 1990s as “Postcards for Our Planet” (POP).  This was a pre INTERNET communication system linking schools in Wales and Portugal.  The objective was to model a global democracy of youth to access leaders with young people’s ideas and concerns about how to ‘rescue’ planet Earth.  It was a postcard version of the citizen’s environmental network proposed in the first UK strategy for sustainable development. The idea was to help young people identify the good and bad things about where they live, then work to improve the bad things and share their ideas, achievements and experiences globally with handmade postcards.

‘Networking Nature With Postcards’ (NNP) began in the 2010s as a microlearning scheme linking primary and secondary schools in Wales with their European counterparts.    NNP revisits POP.  It is a model in environmental education to encourage people to have empathy for the conservation of wildlife.   This is achieved by individuals telling stories about the environment by combining sight-sized data in pictures, with text to make bite-sized  topics of knowledge that can be assembled into the meal-sized subject of conservation management  (Fig 1).

Fig 1 Making a meal of data and knowledge

In IT, symbols, characters, images, or numbers are data. These are the inputs an IT system needs to process in order to produce a meaningful interpretation. Data in and of itself is not useful until human intelligence is applied to convert it to knowledge through the identification of patterns and trends, relationships, assumptions, and relevance. In other words, data in a meaningful form becomes knowledge.

Generally speaking, bite-sized e-learning modules are small, self-contained pockets of knowledge, usually defined as topics. They are shared  with  other topic-makers in a microlearning environment; i.e. a classroom or on line.  They typically range in duration from 1 to 15 minutes and are usually focused on one or two tightly defined learning objectives. Here are a few examples.  

We are now in the where visual content plays a big role in every part of life. It is estimated that 65 percent of the population are visual learners, so graphics are key to engaging students in eLearning courses. Sight-sized visuals summarize content in smaller, and easier to process chunks, and when the right visuals are selected to make a bite-sized knowledge nugget, they offer more comprehensibility than text-based explanations or stand alone audios. Also, students effortlessly relate emotions with visuals, which make eLearning courses based on pictures more impactful and memorable than only using text.

 Between 1875 and the 1940s, cigarette companies often included collectible cards with their packages of cigarettes. Cigarette cards (fag cards) are one of the earliest examples of bite-sized knowledge nuggets in a system of mass production. The BKNs are small trading cards issued by tobacco manufacturers to stiffen cigarette packaging and advertise cigarette brands.  Regarding their use as educational materials one side contains the visual representation of what the card is about. The reverse side of the card would have a short description of the subject of the card.  Albums could be bought to hold collections of cards relating to different topics (Fig 2).

Fig 2 . An album of 50 fish species found in the coastal waters of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, issued by John Player and Sons

All kinds of BKNs can support classroom and distance learning about how to live sustainably.  The differences between them are the systems of delivery.  In this context, BKNs can be assembled as narratives to engage practically with the United Nations 2030 sustainable development goals.  These put nature first in all that we do and orientate civilization toward non material ends.  In terms of pedagogy, BKN’s can be thought of as the basis for new life skills packages for teaching ecocacy.  Ecosacy defines the relationships between culture and ecolog to be taught alongside literacy and numeracy, for people to prosper within an overcrowded planet. In the new Welsh humanistic syllabus of hope, life skills are essentially those abilities that help promote mental well-being and competence in young people as they face the realities of life. 

2 Postcards and other knowledge nuggets

(i) Postcards  

A postcard holds tangible memories with pictures and words to amuse and delight.  ‘Networking Nature With Postcards’ is a hybrid analogue/digital version of classical postcarding. It is part of a social platform that utilizes the mailing, networking technology of the 21st century to preserve the old-fashion handwritten bought postcard, but illustrating it with a unique handcrafted personalised image. These postcard pictures aren’t squashed versions of bigger, bolder artworks and photographs, like Twitter and Instagram. They are public works of art and you can display the pictures you make in your own gallery.  Also, postcards are valued because we can hold them and look at them over and over without the need to open a computer screen to search and scroll. It is Instagram and Twitter in one and every bit as lovely and keepable as the art we frame and hang on walls.  On the other hand, any kind of picture/text on screen package is a powerful tool for classroom learning and communicating between classrooms, particularly where it brings art and science together, to apply arts reasoning to express sustainability.

As an individual sending and receiving postcards all you have to do is to compose an information package, consisting of a picture and some text, to make a postcard and send it to the recipients saying how nature makes you feel, why you enjoy nature and what you are doing locally to put nature first in all that you do.  As a teacher you can make nature postcards as a classroom exercise and post and receive cards from other classes on behalf of your class. Initiating or joining a topic forum allows ideas and achievements to be presented for discussion and development by attaching a picture/text package to a post.  

(ii) Tweets

Digital platforms for making knowledge nuggets are exemplified by Twitter.  Twitter is a really a microblogging platform that allows individuals to communicate by sending short messages of up to 280 characters. Although it enables people to be in constant contact, its value in an educational context is less clear.  Twitter as an educational tool is able to open up totally new worlds for students and allows Tweeters to collaborate and participate in meaningful hashtag chats..  The advice given today by Twitter to increase your reach as a twitterer is to ‘add a picture; people like pictures!’.  Additional information is accessed through an URL link.  An entire suite of Tweets is extractable using #-tagged filters. Feedback is available using ‘Twitter Analytics’, which displays day by day  ‘impressions’ and ‘engagements’ for each Tweet. An ‘impression’ is a Tweet that has been delivered to the Twitter stream of a particular account.  An ‘engagement’ could be a click to a landing page, a reply to a Tweet, or a comment on a Facebook post. Either way, the record of an engagement means that someone has the Tweeter’s attention and they have become engaged in a positive way. In Twitter-speak, a ‘Moment’ is a set of Tweets curated in a sequence that tells a  story. It is a personal linear narrative; a mind map incorporating the personal Tweets of its maker. It can also include other people’s Tweets. ‘Moments’ have their own URLs and can be shared and developed with others.

To summarise, Tweets are sight-sized pieces of information that are turned into a body of knowledge when they are packaged as a Moment.  Here is an example of two year’s tweeting on the topic of Climate Change.

(iii) Flashcards

Making flashcards in a classroom is akin to making postcards. The former can be considered as virtual postcards because the act of making flashcards is a way to “work” the information of picture and text,, challenging students to think about which picture to have on one side and the related description on the other.   Like postcards, flashcards can be swapped between classes to establish a network.

Flashcards are small note cards used for bite size information retrieval which can then be used for improving memory through practiced information retrieval. Flashcards are typically two-sided, with the prompt on one side and the information about the prompt on the other. This may include names, vocabulary, concepts, or procedures.  A flashcard is the ideal medium for a visual learner, because it presents the essence of an idea or concept in a clear and precise image. Whether a flashcard contains text, pictures, or a combination of the two, it is in an ideal format for visual learners.

4 The System

This picture/text system is being assembled and tested in a school context to network classrooms in Wales to support the new humanities-centered  Welsh curriculum. 

The system (Figs 3 & 4) consists of three components;

  • a geographic mother hub, which is a place that exemplifies conservation management in action;
  • a technical hub which provides the facility for sending, receiving, saving and displaying postcards or other kinds of BKNs;
  • a topic forum which stores knowledge and records discussion about a topic in environmental education;   

To begin, a teacher should have:

  • a topic to discuss; warming
  •  a fact to present; e.g. national ecological footprints
  •  an opinion to state; e.g. syllabus development
  •  a request to make; e.g. please send information about….
  •  a destination to reach; e.g. an individual or an organisation;
  •  a technical hub as a collection of resources to facilitate the project e.g. a social medium;
  •  and a geographical hub as a place to refer to that exemplifies conservation management in action; e.g. a designated nature site.  

The rationale for exchanging BKNs involves the seamless integration of the process of making and sending them with the Geographic Mother Hub and the Technical Hub (Figs 3 ). 

Fig 3 Networking nature with postcards: the basics.

Fig 4 Relationships of topics with the mother hub

Fig 5  The complete system

The mother hub, which if the hub is a nature reserve is called a nature hub, is the source of ideas and information to distill into BKNs as distinct packages of knowledge about how the reserve functions as a managed ecosystem .  In this connection, animals protected in a hub can be said to be the watchers of the world, the gatekeepers of the environment.  Animal BKNs are the prime messengers of the state of the ecosystem and its management backed up with a library of copyright free digital resources.. 

5 The History

In its promotion of Networking Nature with Postcards the sponsors are revisiting the young people’s syllabus of hope produced by an international youth group immediatley  after the Rio 1992 environment summit.  The Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN) was a spin off from this in Wales, where it was funded by Texaco, the Countryside Council for Wales and Dyfed County Council. SCAN now exists as three Google Sites, ( nowSCANRescue Mission Planet Wales and Skomer Island).  SCAN also led to the schools phenology network managed by the National Museum in Cardiff, SCAN Spring Bulbs For Schools.

Appendix  1

Puffins and Pandas

1 History

In 2020 a wildlife competition, The Puffin Prize, was sponsored by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW) & International Classrooms On Line (ICOL). The organizers of the competition were trying to understand why young people enjoy nature. What do they find interesting and exciting and what would encourage them to explore further, to spend more time with nature?

All that the entrants had to do was to share one of their favourite experiences of nature. It could be a visit to a nature reserve, or a walk through an urban woodland, a hedgerow or a field full of flowers.  The nature experience could be submitted as an art poster, an essay, a poem, a picture or a combination of any of these

The hope was that the submissions would signify why the applicants enjoyed nature, what they find interesting or exciting and what makes them want to get close to wildlife.  Perhaps they would come up with ideas that would make it easier for them  to explore the countryside and its wildlife.

2 ‘Puffins And Pandas’

‘Puffins And Pandas’ is a new project that developed from reflections on the responses to the Puffin Prize’.  In particular, feedback pointed towards the need to boost the use of IT networking for people to engage seamlessly with environmental issues by creating digital stories about  nature conservation.  Inspired by the blogs ‘Kate On Conservation, and Nerworking Nature With Postcards, ‘Puffins And Pandas is a group of bloggers, each using Google Blogger to create a personal informational website for sharing discrete diary-posts about ideas and issues of managing Earth for wildlife conservation.  

To take this viewpoint brings nature writing into focus. Because of developments in IT, illustrated digital stories are now both easy to produce and simple to publish and are an ideal way to energize learning and engage people of all ages in blogging at a deeper level. Digital storytelling creates space for individuals to pursue personalized topics about which they are passionate.  It grows their learning around assigned topics, and showcases their learning for peers, teachers, and audiences beyond school, all of whom are able to network with the storytellers.

Puffins and Pandas are the world’s most well known animals and they are universally recognised as being charismatic symbols of nature conservation.  They are beautiful, endangered, and loved.  Like the Giant Panda, Puffins carry messages of hope that humanity will eventually put nature first in all that we do before it is too late.  

Oliver Prince, Puffineer in the UK Puffin Project says: “Puffins are lovely and remarkable birds. They have so much character with their handsome appearance, their behaviour around burrows, the lovely noises they make and the astonishing effort they go to feed their young pufflings!”  

Puffins are wild animals that are easy to anthropomorphise so they can bridge the communications gap between humans and the wild and free.  In particular,  they can spark interest in addressing climate change, reducing and cleaning up plastic waste, and other human-caused challenges that threaten their existence.  In this sense we can have conversations about nature conservation on behalf of puffins..

‘Puffins and Pandas’ is a conceptual vehicle to allow the power of storytelling to blossom in learning spaces.  The nature hub, is the small Welsh island of Skomer.  The technical hub is Google Classroom, and/or Google Blogger

To help these conversations along two flipbooks are available as copyright free resources, ‘The Atlantic Puffin’, provides a detailed study of the natural history of puffins.on Skomer  The book is illustrated with over 70 colour photographs of puffins showing fascinating pioneering shots of them  both underwater and underground.  The other flip book, ‘Skomer Island’, is the readable report of the first field survey of the island carried out in 1946.  

‘Puffins And Pandas’ is not a competition. The aim is to encourage Micro-learning, which involves learning in small steps. School activities based on micro-learning usually feature short-term lessons, projects, or coursework that is designed to provide the student with ‘bits’ of information. For example, rather than trying to create a broad subject all at once, aspects of the subject are broken down into smaller pieces of data and reassembled as personalised topics, thus recycling eye-sized information into knowledge and networking it via the Internet.  

The copyright free digital resources to help people along are:-

The Puffin Hyperook- a flip book

Island of Sustainability– a Google Site

Skomer Island- report of the first field survey-a flip book.

S.K.O.M.E.R. – a mindmap of cultural ecology

Natural History of Selborne- a Gutenberg Press online ebook

Educating for change- a free forum

One Small Wilderness- a personal mind map of a special place

To participate all you have to join the coll;ective do is create a free account with Google Blogger, create your very own Blogger and send its Internet address to

It will be added to a list of blogs that will be made public with the understanding that the collective will be self sustainable.

Go to a Google Blogger version of this blog