(Re) cycling the world to promote sustainability

17 April 2013

When Master of Education (Educational Psychology) alumna Kristina Stoney was still a student, she looked at a large map of the world and decided she wanted to help protect its future.

Two years later, the inspiring educator is 11,000km and 17 countries into her circumnavigation of the world by bicycle, sharing her message of environmental sustainability with school children worldwide through a unique online educational program.

Stoney is founding director of Ride To Learn (R2L), an innovative learning project that allows students in classrooms globally to vicariously experience real-life sustainability stories as they follow her 30,000-kilometre cycling journey of the world in real time.

Using GPS tracking, Google maps, Skype and social media, teachers and students chart the R2L expedition as they spread lessons on cultural diversity, climate change impacts and environmentalism. So far Stoney has journeyed across the Caribbean, Brazil, West Africa, Europe and Central Asia, with plans to reach China in the coming months before cycling through the Americas.

The idea for R2L was born while Stoney was writing her thesis at the University of Sydney, which explored the effectiveness of online environments for inspiring students to learn outside of traditional classroom models.

"We decided to develop this online learning program so that we could reach young people who weren't otherwise engaged in didactic education to get involved with us through the adventure and learn about important sustainability topics," she says.

R2L emphasises a truly global approach to education, with seven teaching units established for each of the seven continents the R2L cyclists explore.

"There's a different sustainability story that takes place in each geographical region," she says. "We have key education curriculum designers who are actively developing that content material. We decided to make an education platform that is accessible to as many people as possible, and created a new model for that."

Along with her husband Nic and a core team of 10 volunteer 'Educator-Explorers' based around the world, Stoney has amassed a vast pool of online learning resources, including 5000 documentary videos and 10 000 images, to help animate classroom discussions on the behind-the-scenes story of everyday items.

Students gain authentic learning experiences on the origin of consumer goods through grappling with real-world stories from R2L's global network of contributing partners; from factory worker accounts on sustainable shoe manufacturing in Amsterdam to the environmental impacts of T-shirt production from farmers in Kyrgyzstan.

This sustainability message is translated to children along the road through the R2L bicycles themselves. Decked out with power generators on the hubs, solar panels and water purifiers, Stoney says the humble bike has formed a cornerstone of their success in captivating young people with sustainability education globally.

"Cycling is such a great symbol of adventure," she says. "Everywhere we've cycled so far, people have embraced us and cared for us, and I think it's because of the bikes. Children just flock, they're so interested. They want to know how we eat, how we sleep, how we wash our clothes.

"That whole concept of an adventure is what excites kids to then learn just naturally about different theories, because they're already interested. It's a great way to connect with people and be able to experience the rich stories in a deeper way."

Stoney's own career trajectory has proven as multicultural as the R2L program itself. Completing undergraduate studies in her home country at the University of Vancouver Island, she went on to work in India and Guatemala with at-risk youth and then four years in the Caribbean.

"When I had originally come to the University of Sydney I didn't have any resources left," she says. "I thought I am coming to learn and I knew that the Professors are the experts who will teach me.

"But what I actually got out of the experience was that I am the best expert in how I can learn, and develop my own strategies, which helps me now in how I work with young people. So I see young people as experts in their own situations and all of our education resources and materials revolve around that idea."

The impressive around-the-world cycling adventure hasn't been without its challenges. Stoney recalls riding with her partner Nic through headwinds in the Mauritanian desert in plus 40-degree heat.

"It's hard. Sometimes you get hungry. Sometimes you don't find a camp and you're cycling through the night looking for somewhere to pitch your tent. Sometimes you have to pitch your tent on the side of the road. So I think it's amazing that we're still married!"

Now taking time out from the cycling tour to regroup and raise capital in Australia, Stoney says the next hurdle ahead is to gain the financial support needed to keep the momentum going.

"Because it's a global education program it's really hard to find local funding," she says.

In a bid to raise awareness of the R2L pedagogy, Stoney is running a challenge-based learning workshop in partnership with Apple, aimed at professional development to build teacher confidence in embracing new technologies in the classroom.

"Sustainability topics are just not getting into classrooms as much as they need to be," she says. "These types of programs are going to either be what educational institutions adopt or what they eventually decide to create themselves as new technologies become available. It's very important."


What: 'Challenge Based Learning Workshop'

When: Friday 3 May, 9am - 4pm

Where: Room 618, Education Building, Manning Road, University of Sydney

Cost: $215 per person, inclusive of GST

Registration: Book Online at the Learning IS website

Contact: Emily Jones

Phone: 02 9114 1961; 0405 208 616

Email: 26210c380b1a29283a090b73351b0a3f072d7434573f190407