PLoS One. 2023 Oct 26;18(10):e0293003. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0293003. eCollection 2023.
Individuals usually develop a sense of place through lived experiences or travel. Here we introduce new and innovative tools to measure sense of place for remote, far-away locations, such as Greenland. We apply this methodology within place-based education to study whether we can distinguish a sense of place between those who have visited Greenland or are otherwise strongly connected to the place from those who never visited. Place-based education research indicates that an increased sense of place has a positive effect on learning outcomes. Thus, we hypothesize that vicarious experiences with a place result in a measurably stronger sense of place when compared to the sense of place of those who have not experienced the place directly. We studied two distinct groups; the first are people with a strong Greenland connection (experts, n = 93). The second are students who have never been there (novices, n = 142). Using i) emotional value attribution of words, ii) thematic analysis of phrases and iii) categorization of words, we show significant differences between novice’s and expert’s use of words and phrases to describe Greenland as a proxy of sense of place. Emotional value of words revealed statistically significant differences between experts and novices such as word power (dominance), feeling pleasantness (valence), and degree of arousal evoked by the word. While both groups have an overall positive impression of Greenland, 31% of novices express a neutral view with little to no awareness of Greenland (experts 4% neutral). We found differences between experts and novices along dimensions such as natural features; cultural attributes; people of Greenland; concerns, importance, or interest in and feeling connected to Greenland. Experts exhibit more complex place attributes, frequently using emotional words, while novices present a superficial picture of Greenland. Engaging with virtual environments may shift novice learners to a more expert-like sense of place, for a far-away places like Greenland, thus, we suggest virtual field trips can supplement geoscience teaching of concepts in far-away places like Greenland and beyond.