U professor returns from Arctic trek, raises awareness of global issues

Doering spent six months in the Arctic, teaching students via by Web site.

Lacey Crisp

Battling polar bears, illnesses, fires and blizzards didn’t faze University professor Aaron Doering and five others who spent the last six months trekking across the Arctic.

The group left from Canada’s Nunavut tundra with one goal in mind – “adventure learning.”

“Our goal was to give students the opportunity to learn about global problems via the Internet from us in the field,” said Doering, who was the team education specialist for the trip.

Doering set up a curriculum that included language, history and geography of the area. Students around the world – primarily in middle schools – learned through pictures and journal entries on the Web site what it was like in the Arctic.

The team that traveled across the Arctic consisted of Doering, Minnesotans Will Steger, Paul Pregont, and Eric Dayton, Mille Porsild of Denmark and Hugh Dale-Harris of Canada. They were divided into three teams of 10 dogs and two people. The group returned June 15.

The expedition took the team approximately 2,100 miles across the rough and sparsely populated terrain of the Arctic.

For days on end, temperatures reached 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit and the winds howled, Doering said.

“On a normal day I would have eight layers of clothing on,” he said.

The team suffered many difficult times. One morning, team members found a curious polar bear outside their tent. Doering eventually succeeded in scaring it away when he got his gun and fired a number of shots into the air.

“We were really fortunate he left when he did,” Doering said. “If he would have come close to us, we would have been in trouble because I didn’t have any extra shells left after I shot them all in the air.”

Despite setbacks, Doering said the education the team provided to classrooms through its trek was worth it.

University environmental science professor Paul Bloom said the work Doering’s group did to educate students is important because global warming has a much larger impact on the Arctic than it does on Minnesota.

“It’s a great way to get people involved in raising awareness for science and policy changes,” Bloom said.

Students were also able to ask the trekkers questions.

“I always had a goal of tying the Internet with learning in the real world,” Doering said.

Doering estimated that more than one million students worldwide used the program.

“If we can motivate students, we can help them not only learn, but also care about the environment and their future,” Doering said.

Doering said the team could not have accomplished its goals without graduate students such as Charles Miller helping in Minnesota.

Miller, a doctoral student in learning technology, designed and developed the Web site where students followed team members.

“It was exciting to be the first one to see the images and be able to help students learn by building the Web site,” Miller said.

Miller said it took three months of planning and preparation to get the Web site ready before the explorers left.

“I pretty much had to be on the computer 24 hours a day from January to June to update the Web site as soon as (Doering) sent me images,” Miller said.

A number of private donations funded the program, as well as a large grant from the Best Buy Children’s Foundation.

In March 2005, Doering and the rest of the team plan on setting off for their next adventure learning expedition to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.