Re-connecting with nature

Bronwyn Cumbo. Photo by Joanne Saad.

Bronwyn Cumbo. Photo by Joanne Saad.

In summary: 
  • Bronwyn Cumbo, a PhD candidate at UTS’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, is spending 12 months at the City University of New York’s Children’s Environments Research Group
  • Cumbo is currently a co-researcher on a project digitalising the Young Citizens’ Score Cards and she’s also working with the New York Hall of Science to investigate how play can support children’s learning about science and nature

Imagine being awarded a prestigious Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship that takes you abroad and enables you to collaborate with world-leading researchers. Bronwyn Cumbo doesn’t need to.

The PhD candidate at UTS’s Institute for Sustainable Futures is spending 12 months at the City University of New York’s Children’s Environments Research Group (CERG). Here, Cumbo is working with leading Environmental Psychologist, and CERG Director, Professor Roger Hart.

CERG’s research centres on improving the rights of children in cities by increasing their participation in processes that affect their lives. Cumbo is currently a co-researcher on a project digitalising the Young Citizens’ Score Cards – a collaboration with international development organisation Plan International.

Cumbo is collecting data to understand how this scorecard process may be digitalised in a way that is child-friendly, participatory and accessible.

“The scorecard evaluates the ‘friendliness’ of their local neighbourhoods, assessing a child’s experience of safety, education, play and green space,” explains Cumbo.

“This process not only captures data, it also provides a platform for young people to learn and discuss important issues about their experience of childhood.

“It also empowers children to get organised and connect with relevant networks and individuals to create changes within their community.”

Up until now, the scorecard has been successfully used in over 27 countries using pens, paper, sticks or rocks – whatever is available in the community. CERG’s plan is to bring the scorecard into the digital age.

“This digitalisation project is looking at how tools can be used to increase the efficiency of the scorecard process, while maintaining its playful, participatory and child-friendly approach,” explains the early-career researcher. 

To do this, last March, Cumbo and her colleagues embarked on a British Council-funded trip to New Delhi, India to run workshops with children, young adolescents and adults. Their aim was to better understand the feasibility of applying these tools in a developing community.

While digitalisation would increase the efficiency of data collection in some cases, Cumbo explains, “There are a number of unique contextual and cultural factors to consider when introducing software to run these activities in developing communities, such as WiFi access, literacy levels and the child-friendliness of the software.”

A new proposal that incorporates these contextual factors in the digitalisation process is currently underway.  

Meanwhile, back in New York, Cumbo is also collaborating with the New York Hall of Science to investigate how their exhibitions and programs may be designed to further children’s understanding of and appreciation for the natural world.

In one exhibition, Connected Worlds, Cumbo is researching how children’s experiences of the exhibit influence their understanding of the connectivity between people and their local natural environment. The exhibition is a collaboration between researchers from Columbia University, Yale, MIT and more.

Connected Worlds is an immersive, animated experience, containing six ecosystems that children can influence through their movements, gestures and decisions. It’s really an incredible exhibition, but the New York Science Hall and its collaborators have little idea about how this unique experience influences a child.

“My project aims to understand how you can use play in neutral places like the New York Science Hall to support children’s learning about science and nature.

“Working on these projects,” enthuses Cumbo, “is enabling me to apply and further develop my research in a range of contexts, which is wonderful.”

It’s a goal she has had since taking part in the 2014 UTS Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. The 3MT is a competition where Masters by research and PhD students explain their thesis topic in only three minutes.

While Cumbo found the 3MT “nerve wracking”, sharing the big picture story of her research opened doors for new opportunities and collaborations.

“It was definitely a valuable experience,” says Cumbo. “Having the opportunity to gather feedback about your communication skills and your research project from a range of expert 3MT judges is a rare opportunity, and one that I would recommend.” 

The 2016 3MT will be held on 7 September. For more information visit bit.ly/1Rc8JpC

Categories:
Education, Sustainability