Caves, Campfires, and Watering Holes

Man sitting in the mouth of a cave with open sky and mountain showing beyond the cave

Futurist David Thornburg identifies three archetypal learning spaces— the campfire, cave, and watering hole—that schools can use as physical spaces and virtual spaces for student and adult learning (bit.ly/YvRuWC)

Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering Holes: Educators on ISTE’s Australian Study Tour Discovered How to Create New Learning and Teaching Environments where Curriculum and Instructional Tools Meet the Digital Age, UNCG NC DOCKS (North Carolina Digital Online Collection of Knowledge and Scholarship)

In creating such a system, today’s educators go back to the best of our roots in the earliest teachers who understood that learning occurs in many spaces, from caves to campfires to watering holes. The tools we use and the curriculum we learn shift across time.

Timeless Learning – How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools
bonfire

The campfire is a space where people gather to learn from an expert. In the days of yore, wise elders passed down insights through storytelling, and in doing so replicated culture for the next generation.

Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering Holes

The cave is a private space where an individual can think, reflect, and transform learning from external knowledge to internal belief. 

Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering Holes

The cave is a private space, where students can find that much needed alone time useful for reflection on their learning or just to recharge. (a necessary space for those students with Aspergers).

Campfires, Caves and Watering holes | Libraries, Youth and the Digital Age
Man sitting in the mouth of a cave with open sky and mountain showing beyond the cave
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The watering hole is an informal space where peers can share information and discoveries, acting as both learner and teacher simultaneously. This shared space can serve as an incubator for ideas and can promote a sense of shared culture. It is an informal area, where students can share in collaborative learning experiences.

Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering Holes

Learners have long gathered around campfires, watering holes, and have isolated themselves in the seclusion of caves. They have experienced all these learning environments in balance and, if the balance is offset, learning suffered.

It is interesting to note, by the way, that conference programs almost never mention anything other than the “campfire” aspects of the conference. Participants are invited to attend conferences to “hear the latest from experts in the field.” While this has great merit, this aspect of a learning community represents only one third of the food for thought needed for a balanced meal for the mind.

The presentations were (generally) excellent. For example, Arthur C. Clarke held us spellbound with his visions of the future during a live two-way remote videoconference from Sri Lanka. Even so, by lunchtime on the first day, there was a lot of grumbling from the attendees. They had been exposed to some intense campfires with no access to watering holes or caves.

While I’ve concentrated on the application of these archetypal learning models to conferences, they apply to classroom settings as well. Students have experienced the campfire of the traditional classroom setting and relied on the playground for their watering hole. Quiet time for reflection, when made available, takes place in libraries or study halls, or is deferred until the student goes home at the end of the day. The watering hole is being brought into classrooms today through the medium of cooperative learning but, tragically, school libraries (and the time to spend in them) are “at-risk” in schools where funding for such programs is in short supply.

Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century

Students visit the campfire to hear the story we want to tell through our instruction. They are able to share in this experience in person or via tech- nology in a flipped classroom.

The watering hole used to be the walk home after school or the phone calls after dinner. Now students gather with peers online using Facebook, Edmodo, blog posts, or text messages. Their op- portunities to share have multiplied astronomically and can benefit from the guidance provided by school-created platforms for discussion.

Increasingly, studies of the brain and learning indicate the need for metacognition, which takes time, practice, and a quiet space to reflect.

The cave becomes not only inviting, but also essential. As students reflect on the meaning of their work, the content cements, and a new cycle of goal setting and achievement begins, allowing students to engage, socialize, communicate, create, and collaborate in meaningful learning that reflects the world in which they live.

She noted that one of the ways she experiments with the cave concept is to take desks and chairs and place them in corners and crevices that are off the main floor of the library. Inevitably, she finds these spaces occupied and even coveted by students and teachers in search of quiet and reflec- tion. These isolated study spots are excellent examples of cave zones.

Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering Holes: Educators on ISTE’s Australian Study Tour Discovered How to Create New Learning and Teaching Environments where Curriculum and Instructional Tools Meet the Digital Age, UNCG NC DOCKS (North Carolina Digital Online Collection of Knowledge and Scholarship)

 First, and make no mistake here, all three sacred learning spaces will have analogs in cyberspace. If they don’t, then cyberspace will cease to exist as a domain of interaction among humans. Those using the new media will create their own analogs for these learning places, even if they are not designed into the system. In this regard, cyberspace is like any other frontier: rich in possibility, covered with brambles and weeds, but rich with fertile soil for development.

Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century

Further reading,

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Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic parent and retired tech worker. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they

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