Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck our shores, our approach to environmental and sustainability education has had to change. While traditional environmental and sustainability education relies heavily on face-to-face, hands-on methods, we're seeing that the best educators can pivot and adapt to whatever engagement challenges get thrown their way.
Here are five examples of organisations who have cleverly pivoted to make the most of remote learning in the age of COVID-19 (and some tips for how you can too!):
1. North Sydney Council
Local councils are one of the biggest sources of environmental and sustainability education in the state. But what do you do when you can't bring your local community together in workshops and events which are so often the 'go-to' for council education programs? The team at North Sydney Council pivoted quickly when coronavirus hit and transitioned a broad range of sustainability programs offered through The Coal Loader and other sites to favour remote and distance engagement. Some of their clever ideas included adapting their green living workshops into a one-hour, lunchtime digital green events program, moving their produce and artisans markets online into a digital marketplace and engaging residents at home with sustainability action bingo. Love it!
2. YOUth LEADing the World
The YOUth LEADing the World program delivered by OzGREEN has traditionally been delivered through hands-on, face to face facilitator training and an in-person, youth-led congress. With all the restrictions in place it would have been easy to postpone the program until it could proceed as normal. With some quick thinking however, OzGREEN have run their first international, online facilitator training this month and engaged people from Australia, Cameroon, Egypt, Hawaii, India, Kenya, Kiribati, Nepal and London in their 2-day online sessions. They have also written up a great summary of how they ran their session and all the activities and online engagement strategies they used to keep momentum in the sessions including art, interactive whiteboard and online breakout groups.
3. Universities embracing 'panic-gogy'
We love it when a new term starts getting thrown around, and 'panic-gogy' is one of our current favourites. It doesn't sound like a good thing - but stay with us! Universities in the US and beyond are embracing this approach to learning to keep their transition to online learning in perspective. The phrase was coined by Sean Michael Morris at the University of Colorado and in essence means understanding the limitations many students face when learning gets moved online and the complicated and stressful period many people are currently facing. It encourages educators to not just simply do online what they did before face-to-face, but instead consider how to keep things flexible, show compassion at a time of high stress for many, and engage students in crafting their own solutions for new ways of learning. Many Australian universities are grappling with these same issues and coming up with flexible and supportive arrangements for delivering classes and engaging students in what is a challenging time for everyone.
4. Environmental and Zoo Education Centres (EZEC's)
We're lucky in NSW to have a great network of government-supported environmental and zoo education centres across the state. Many schools rely on their local EZEC for guidance and sustainability education support. When coronavirus hit and so many of the planned incursions, excursions and professional development sessions were all put on hold, EZEC's were quick to pull together a comprehensive online directory of primary and secondary remote learning resources and support for schools. Many of the centres themselves have also worked quickly to come up with creative online engagement ideas like Gibberagong's recent teaching outside webinar, Thalgarrah's series of zoom sessions with local primary schools and Brewongle's weekly wellness campaign.
Not surprisingly, change guru Les Robinson (who also happens to be one of our terrific NSW members) was quick to roll with the change needed to keep the momentum of the community education and behaviour change workshops he is renowned for. In true Les style, he has also written this super helpful blog on how to facilitate the perfect online workshop (including lots of checklists, specific resource recommendations and tips on keeping people engaged and connected while educating online) so we can all learn from his work. One of his key points is to practice, practice, practice and learn from your mistakes. He prioritised carrying out two, full dress rehearsals to ensure he'd ironed out as many issues as possible before diving in. If you're taking a session online, remember to practice as best you can, and make time at the end of your session to reflect (and get feedback from others) on how it could be improved. Evaluation is more important than ever!
We're heartened by the progress we're making in NSW to ease restrictions and we're hopeful that we can return to the face-to-face, hands-on methods that we're all so familiar with really soon. But, we're also excited for what this time of forced adaptation and innovation could mean for improving the accessibility and reach of environmental and sustainability education programs beyond the pandemic.
Let's rise to the challenge and find opportunities amidst the obstacles like these clever organisations have!
Do you know of other great 'pivot' examples? Share them on our Facebook wall.