Blended learning permaculture courses — a starting point for educators

In these difficult times many permaculture educators are facing loss of income with cancelled and postponed face to face courses. Here are some tips for educators who are looking to diversify their courses and way of teaching harvesting opportunities to share knowledge with people who perhaps would not have been able to attend a face to face course in “normal” circumstances.

Keep the course as interactive as possible — this means using different ways of presenting information and having exchanges and discussions:

  • Conference calls / webinars — useful to create community and feeling of belonging in a cohort, especially useful for network weaving, support within the group and group work — feels more like a “real” course — will boost attendance and participants are more likely to recommend it to others
  • Screen sharing — if you are using jitsi you will be able to share your screen it is a really useful tool when it comes to sharing a presentation, video or even a miro board or jamboard both behaving like interactive whiteboards.
  • Instructional videos — useful for presenting theoretical information — WARNING too much info and too long videos will alienate the participants. You should make transcripts available for people who prefer to read the information. If you use YouTube subtitles are generated automatically, you should check how good the quality is and fix any that are obviously wrong. The length of the videos should be not too long and include more than one frame ie not longer than 10 min preferably and include different views so that you do not loose your audience. (some useful info here and here)
  • Revisiting understanding — there are various ways to do this, questions that invite reflection on the presented content is a good way to do this, more theoretical topics can include multiple choice questions — if you are using coursecraft or moodle this in an inbuilt feature.
  • Individual design work — for a 0 cost shared workspace you can use gdrive (it is not opensource but it will do the job) the participants can create their content in their own individual folders that are shared within the groups. Alternatively if you are a little more technical and can invest into nextcloud this would be the opensource version of the tool. Here participants can create drawings, documents, mindmaps and any other content that would be part of their design. It would also work great with group work as these tools support multi-user editing functions.
  • Creating community — general sharing space — it is good to have a space where participants can talk about what they are doing and what resources they come across, this is very valuable and will add the community dimension to a course. If the website you are using supports a forum or comments board this could be a nice solution, alternatively and depending on the participants, Facebook groups, whatsapp groups, signal chat group or any other place where people can talk to each other in a closed & safe space would be fine.
  • Group design work — if you intend to give your cohort group work there is scope to give the group some guidelines on how they should group, for example by climate area, or areas of interest, time zone — be time specific when is this group work going to happen and what will be achieved during that time. In zoom you can have breakout rooms which are particularly useful for this kind of work but other programs such as Jitsi will also work fine, it is opensource and free to use.
  • Personal — remember that making the course feel personal and interactive will help keep the participants engaged, one tip to keep to this is to try and bring the online course as close as possible to a face to face course with exercises and participant interaction at high levels — be upfront about how much time and when different parts of the course happen.

making the course feel personal and interactive will help keep the participants engaged

  • Practical — ask the participants to design for their context — this will keep the course grounded and practical, participants feel more invested and engaged.
  • Celebrate… at the end of the course enable the participants to use the conferencing tools you choose to share their design as best they can using tools that you are familiar with.

About digital tools

There are many that are 0 cost or opensource or both. Heather Jo Flores made a useful list here along with many tutorials for different tools.

Don’t worry about learning all the tools all at once, start with the ones that feel most essential to you for delivering your course content and go from there.

#permaculture practitioner, teacher and designer — co-founder of #ecohackerfarm