Parks&People (South Africa) is structured around five 3-credit courses and seven modules constructed around a limited number of cross-cutting themes.
The modules are addressed sequentially as the program moves across South Africa, and each is associated with a particular physical and social environment. Individual modules may focus on one or two courses, but each module includes material or activities that cross all of the courses, and each module builds upon and integrates the previous modules.
Several themes cut across all of the modules. Each module, for example, will include:
- Migration–with a particular focus on rural to urban movements.
- Biodiversity, with adaptation as a major component.
- Health–both human and ecological health.
Within each module, students have both individual and team projects that may cross several courses, but are focused in one particular area (e.g. the natural science course). Students undertake individual and group projects within each module. For example, each student will receive one or more papers to read for a module: In module one, on urban parks and livelihoods, a student may receive a natural science paper on a particular topic (e.g. invasive species), someone else may get a paper on fynbos and fire regimes. Others may get related papers on ecosystem services or tourism, etc. Each student writes a report on the paper they were assigned. Together they then have to combine their knowledge to write a “decision-making” report, where not all of the individual papers are equally important to the group project.
The process is repeated in the next module, with the added element that the student who received the ecologically-focused paper on invasive species, will then get one on the “Working for Water” program—a government sponsored program to remove invasive species, which tend to use more water than native species, and at the same time create jobs and income for low-income families. In this way, as a group, students engage multiple perspectives on a single module (e.g. urban parks and livelihoods), but over time they individually build their knowledge of a single topic (e.g. invasive species)—again from multiple perspectives. In addition, students have multiple individual assignments within each module—constructing a systems diagram that describes their own understanding of how the natural and human systems interact, which grows in complexity with each module; writing magazine articles on each topic for different types of audiences, developing small-business plans for businesses that would utilize natural resources and promote economic development in small communities; and producing written, photo and video journals to reflect on their experiences and help construct meaning from what they have been learning. The learning process is layered and iterative—as new material and new experiences are added, previous ‘knowledge’ is continuously revisited and ‘understanding’ becomes more complex and sophisticated.
Student achievement (grades) are determined by both individual work as well as group work and can be assessed for each individual course, but what the students experience is a single integrated 15-credit program. There is no single instructor for any class and no set of lectures that constitute a body of imparted knowledge. This is an immersive experience with multiple pathways to learning. Students attend lectures from program faculty, guest lectures from faculty at South African universities; lectures, discussion, and hands-on demonstrations from Park scientists, park rangers, and scientists at the National Biodiversity Institute; they conduct surveys with flower sellers in the flower market, and engage in discussions with Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organizations, and with community members. They read scholarly papers, and they teach each other—all of the students come to the program with different strengths and disciplinary backgrounds.
As the students move across South Africa, they stay in hotels, guest-houses and camp sites—they are together for the whole ten weeks and learning takes place continuously—during the day, over meals and in the evenings. There are no weekends and, while there are a few days with no scheduled activities, there are no days off. The program is designed to promote teamwork, but also to provide opportunities for leadership. At some point, every student will find themselves outside of their comfort zone. The program is designed to make students question what they think they understand, to recognize the multiple views of the world that they encounter and to help place themselves in that world. Reflection is critical to this process and time for reflection is built into the program.