Without repeating the obvious this year was quite something! However, instead of speaking of the trials and tribulations that many have experienced, the unit would prefer to speak about opportunity. For many of us, the incredible harshness of the lockdown forced us to re-evaluate personal and professional assumptions. “In my case, the assumptions about what is needed to empower and enhance the learning experience of our College students,” said Ashwell Glasson who heads up the unit Covid-19 meant that for the first time in many years, if not ever, we did not have our SADC students on campus in the second semester. Other students that were on occupational programmes were also returning to safe havens and their families. Our staff and team that we were used to seeing every day were only visible via WhatsApp, Zoom and other communication applications. Staff involved in research and writing in the policy space, had to publish without ever physically seeing some of our co-authors or supervisors. Our work on Braveheart led to a successful publication on the Militarization of Conservation in Africa, in the Extremisms in Africa Volume 3, a leading print publication in the African Governance policy space.
We soon realized that the era of blended-learning was here, whether we were ready for it or not. We had to adapt and innovate to ensure that we were still delivering our education and training programmes to our students and partner organizations. To understand the challenges that our students might face, many of us were kindly supported in undergoing instructional design training for an eLearning environment. Ten weeks of intensive training ran parallel with the design and implementation of learning support and online courses over July and August 2020, heading into September when we began to pilot and implement various training programmes via online tools such as Zoom, Talent-LMS, Google Meet, Google Classroom and a host of other tools. This rapid-implementation challenged many of us. With colleagues like Colonel Altin Gysman, we revised , designed and developed several programmes, like the Braveheart-Ranger Leadership Programme and the Human Rights for Conservation context.
Fast-forward to the present, the various business units and projects have had highly successful pilot programmes launched and delivered. Some of the crucial learnings were the following:
- That existing students and new participants remained hungry and curious to learn.
- Simultaneously helping support staff and students with the uncertainty of the pandemic were critical.
- Online programmes have to be chunked (grouped together) or made into smaller, more manageable learning sessions that can be recorded, shared and worked on in a synchronized fashion.
- That particular practical and applied competencies can only be delivered face-to-face and not via e-learning systems.
- Conservation education and training remain a high-interest subject for many.
The last three months have proven to be a catalyst for improving the standard of the Southern African Wildlife College programmes. This period has also further challenged us to indeed train across boundaries, extending not only our reach but how we deliver our services to our students.