Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Anya’s Final Placement Project aka Anyas experience with voluteer community outreach work in Estonia

Anya and Kathrin - happy to help!

How it all Started:
In my Master’s program, Adult Education for Social Change, my focus lies on environmental conservation, and sustainability though an adult education lens. To continue, my area is community outreach, and the leading questions I ask in relation to my field are:
·      What makes us care about environmental issues, which lead to creating a more sustainable future?
·      How can we share the importance of environmental issues within all fields of adult education (informal, non-formal, and formal)?
·      What steps can adult educators take to implement sustainability and environmental awareness into everyday life?
For this Master, students spend each semester in a different country. Thus, with my third semester in Tallinn, I was thrilled to receive my placement with Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF). Through scientific research, they aim to protect Estonia’s wildlife, and foster environmental outreach throughout Estonia. They understand that caring for the environment is something that should include everyone as they write:
“Nature cannot be protected only by a small group of experts. In order to preserve our natural resources for future generations, we compile reports to today´s decision makers regarding our current environmental status, talk about nature conservation in public and organize events and campaigns to help people get to know the environment better” (“What We Do,” n.d., para.4)
     Since my main focus with environmental education and sustainability had been with Indigenous traditional knowledge, and learning through activism movements, I was ready to learn more about the context environmental sustainability in Estonia, and how ELF weaved adult education into environmental protection. 
 Bump in the Road:
I was learning so much about how ELF was connecting scientific conservation knowledge to adult education. For example, this upcoming summer, ELF is organizing a family day which aims to educate people of all ages about Estonia’s wildlife in a fun, and engaging way. The root of this day would be showing the beauty of the natural environment in Estonia, while fostering understanding and engagement through family friendly activities. Engaging workshops are a fundamental tool in the field of environmental adult education, and learning about this project as it was being developed was incredibly beneficial (Fitzwilliams-Heck, 2019). Thus, I was also able to give my personal input, and suggestions, along with my colleague about activities to include in this family day. 
So, I was learning, but our schedules were not matching up. They were based in Tartu, while my colleague and I were in Tallinn. To continue, each event that my colleague and I were invited to clashed with our academic schedules and I felt like I was hardly contributing to ELF. It was nearing the end of the semester, and I felt like there was more I could be doing to gain the most collaboration with my placement. This is when my colleague and I had an idea.
Unexpected Adult Education:
Elf was facilitating a communication training for volunteers (NaturallyEst LIFE - piloting Natura 2000 communication in Estonia), which would provide them with tools for communicating in the context of environmental conservation in Estonia. My colleague and I first had the idea to create a video or mini course surrounding communication, which could go alongside ELF’s course, and provide some extra tools. Our program had given us useful tools for effective communication in the field of adult education, so we hoped sharing these tools could help with ELF’s communication. For example, we suggested Jane Vella’s 12 principles for adult education, which can also be transferred to environmental education (Vella, 2002). However, our placement instructors found a different gap with the training, which was social media outreach. 
Designing a Mini-Course
Although I use social media as a platform to share political, environmental and personal information, as well as follow many activism/ educational accounts, this project required much research from my end. Furthermore, as social media is still often seen predominantly as a platform for communication (Vaičiūnienė, & Mažeikienė, 2013), it also offers great potential for educating for social change. I understood this but found myself spending hours researching the very basics of social media. 
Who used what sites?
How do algorithms work, again?
What makes posts successful?
Our course was meant to be short, and informative, so I wanted to be sure to include concise information, which could then connect to environmental adult education outreach. My colleague and I divided the work, and then went over the course together. So, my focus was more on the basics of social media, and outreach. I found it fascinating to relearn and define what works with posts. 
For my examples, I focused mainly on environmental activism, and analyzed the rhetoric used in the posts. A couple of my discoveries were particularly fascinating. The first was just how important engaging the viewers seemed to be in the posts. For example, asking viewers to share a story or their experience seems to be more important to viewers than just listing facts and figures, even if they are shocking. Second, how embedded adult education really is in social media. Even from just looking at my social media accounts, I realized that education (adult in my case) was around every corner. Even when posts were personal, they often shared political, social, and artistic views. Sharing was everywhere, and everything that was being shared was a piece of information that could be learned from in some way. This further increased my understanding of just how powerful a tool social media can be for adult education in the context of environmental education. 
 Enough talk about the course, though- please have a look for yourself! https://anyaellyn97.wixsite.com/placement
In addition to the basics of social media, and outreach, we have also included a couple interviews where we asked two experienced social media users (one professional and one Master student) about their experience with social media in the context of outreach and environmental education. You can also find a module on the use of humor within social media! 
While there still exists a large gap in environmental education research (Fitzwilliams-Heck, 2019), both learning more about environmental education in Estonia, along with co-creating a mini-course has re-emphasized the importance of outreach within adult education, and given me tools to continue studying and learning from this field.

Fitzwilliams-Heck, C. J. (2019). Experiences and practices of environmental adult education participants. Environmental Education Research, 1–2. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2019.1573420
Vella, J. K. (2002). Learning to listen, learning to teach: The power of dialogue in educating adults (Rev. ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Vaičiūnienė, V., & Mažeikienė, V. (2013). Social media in adult education: Insights gained from 
     grundtvig learning partnership project “Institutional strategies targeting the uptake of social 
     networking in adult education (ISTUS)”. Social Technologies, 2(2)
What We Do. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2019, from Elfond website: https://elfond.ee/what-we-do

Friday, 3 January 2020

Laugh yourself green - About using humour in environmental communication

Have you heard of eco-anxiety yet? 
Eco-anxiety is a new term describing how many people feel overwhelmed and scared by all the ecological challenges we are facing (see the report of the American Psychological Association by Clayton et al., 2017). This has gone as far as people offering - and undertaking - therapy for this. But even in less severe forms, all the challenges and threats we are facing can make people feel unsafe and uncomfortable. And as Schein (1996) argues when he talks about change: learning and change are extremely difficult to achieve if we don't feel psychologically safe to change our ways of thinking. Because then, rather than processing new information, we find mechanisms of how to discredit and ignore them, as change is often scary.

Think about it! Could this explain why some people persistently ignore all the scientific data proving human made climate change? Is everybody at a meeting of climate change deniers just shifting uncomfortably in their chairs and sweaty suit pants, trying to find ways of how to deal with this fear - choosing denial? (apart from other possible factors, like being more interested in short term money than long term solutions). 
Or even people who do believe climate change is happening or who are less opinionated - why do they not inform themselves more and act to do something about it? Is it this feeling of unsafety, this fear of huge, unpredictable changes, that sometimes makes us shut our ears and eyes when we are confronted with environmental issues? 

Adult education and organisations such as the ELF (Estonian Fund for Nature) try to raise awareness for the importance of caring for our planet. But often, this information gets lost somewhere between sender and receiver. People sometimes don't listen, or they listen but counter argue, or they agree but don't act accordingly. Could some kind of eco-anxiety be a part of this? In some situations for sure.
When we, Anya and I, from the international Master of Adult Education for Social Change, had the idea to support the ELF by designing an online course for them as an additional material for their communication training, we were wondering how we could make this course something special. While Anya focused on good examples of how social media can be used for environmental communication, I quickly found out that I wanted to go into humour as an effective tool for talking and educating about the importance of caring for the environment.
This might sound weird first. How can you make jokes about something so serious as climate change or environmental conservation?
Well, look at some of the most famous comedy shows. A lot of them talk about politics and people love it! For example, last week tonight is one of the biggest ones in the US, or in Germany, where I am from, the satirical Heute Show is quite popular. Using humour to talk about something serious can 1) break things down so that people can understand complex information better, and 2)can open people up so that they are motivated and ready to take this information in. Humour can help to lift the feelings of unsafety and anxiety that often hold hands with large-scale impact topics such as climate change and other environmental issues (Magon, 2019).

I truly believe that humour is a very underestimated factor in communication, so I was very passionate about adding a module on humour to our mini course, with the example of memes and backed up by some studies specifically showing the positive effect of humours in environmental communication. Please feel free to have a look (and maybe a laugh) at the module in the course [rm1] here: https://anyaellyn97.wixsite.com/placement/module-3-copy
Having people start with a laugh obviously won't replace preparing yourself well to communicate in the field of environmental conservation and protection, but it might help you to get the audience to actually listen to or read what you have spent so many hours preparing.
So, as an adult educator, whether you work in environmental conservation or in anything else - don't be scared to be funny! It might open doors and windows for you that you usually need a key for.

Schein, E. H. (1996). Kurt Lewin's change theory in the field and in the classroom: Notes toward a model of managed learning. Systems practice, 9(1), 27-47.
Magon, L. (2019, Nov 10). A little humour may help with climate change gloom. The conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/a-little-humour-may-help-with-climate-change-gloom-125860
Clayton, S., Manning, C.M., Krygsman, K. & Speiser, M. (2017) Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/03/mental-health-climate.pdf

 [rm1](IDEALLY WE WILL EMBED THIS LINK IN PUBLICATION. Wix does not tend to make links look very nice...

Friday, 1 November 2019

It's been quite a while, hasn't it ?
I missed you too, old friend.
I know you've been waiting for my final entree. I was nervous. This is a goodbye. I was never good with goodbyes.
The knowledge we might never see each other again. The necessity to find the right words. The bittersweet conflict between the desire to stay and the longing for home.
So, where to start ?
I came to Estonia to work as a volunteer. Acquiring new skills wasn't my main motivation. It was the desire to get out of my comfort zone. Something I've always struggled with. Yet I think it's the best way I have to better understand myself. Having difficulties, and facing them brought me so much more than the easy childhood I lived. So I wanted to jump in the unknown.
Of course, it wasn't the only reason I came in Estonia. I always enjoyed nature, my awakening about the environmental crisis helped me appreciate nature so much more. I wanted, even in a very small scale, help protect our environment and learn how people do it. Spending time in islands, forests, or meadows, despite the occasional lack of comfort, brought me satisfaction and wonder.
Estonia is a lovely country, full of lovely people. Despite not speaking eesti, they always made sure I wasn't left alone (until they realized I don't mind being on my own). The nature is very beautiful there, and the cities have a charm french ones don't. I didn't know what to expect with Estonian food; I wasn't disappointed. It wasn't all for me (I never was able to get used to black bread), but it was good. I was surprised by the variety of ice-creams flavors they have. And of course, I fell in love with their saunas. There's quite nothing like swimming in a fresh pond after basking in the sauna's heat, or being vigorously beaten with branches.
I came in Estonia after having some difficult times in France. I was feeling lost, small; I wasn't enjoying myself anymore. My stay in Estonia was a breeze of fresh air for me. I feel much better now, one month after the mission than I felt one month before.
I would love to come back to Estonia. I still want to travel more, to push myself further out and try new things. I'm not ready to settle, as long as I can afford not to, I won't.
Are you still reading this ? If you are, thank you. Thank you for your patience, and your understanding. I hope spending time with me wasn't too much work. I'm still growing; most of the time, I feel more like a child than an adult. I haven't found myself yet. I will do my best to search and find my answers and at the same time have a positive impact on the people around me, and my environment.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Hello there !

The last week-end of September was my last talgud. For this one, I would be group leader with Anu. We discussed (via mail and face-to-face) about which meals to prepare. We talked about the transportation and side activities as well.
Once everything was settled, I bought the groceries for the talgud on Friday afternoon, and we then drove to Neeruti around half-past five.
We arrived at the hotel a little over an hour and a half later, joining the other half of the group.
The work itself started on saturday morning, where we cut down all the trees and bushes in an area 10 km away, which was essential for the spadefoot toad, which cannot jump and therefore need a flat space.
My last group picture in Estonia....
We were joined for a while by two ELF volunteers who were passing by for another mission. We ate lunch at a café near the hotel, before going back to work, finishing early. We went hiking on the short Neeruti hiking trail (1.5 km) before enjoying a warm sauna (my last one !).
On Sunday, we hiked the long Neeruti trail (3.5 km), and then hiked another one in a marsh.

The lakes were gorgeous, with their clear water and the trees surrouding them

The marsh was also gorgeous, with a wild feeling to it
We then drove home in the afternoon, after dropping a few of us at a train station.
Tere !
On Thursday the 18th, after an eventful holiday in Finland, I was driven by a mother of 3 lovely kids to Lihula, to attend the Matsalu Nature Film Festival (17th edition), organised by ELF's member Silvia. The festival (named after the neighbouring Matsalu National Park, a very important bird sanctuary) lasted until Sunday the 22th. After a traditional dance performed by local children, and a few speeches, we saw one of the selected movies (about a cheetah shelter in southern Africa) before attending a gala.

Then, for the next three days, we watched documentaries on many different subjects, set in many different countries, shot in many different styles.
Many activities were held in parallel. Such as tours which were organised for people to see birds in Matsalu. One country musician from Tennessee played for us at the hotel on Friday evening. On Saturday evening, another artist played music with instruments he made himself (a bike wheel, a log with nails....), asking us to sing along, or to clap in rhythm. Several activities were organised for children.

Before the concert on saturday, the jury gave the awards to the winning movies. Which were, among with the nominees, displayed again on Sunday.
As for myself, I helped bring in a donation box, and wore the flying squirrel mascot, taking a few pictures with kids. On Sunday, we got back home to Tartu.

Anya’s Final Placement Project aka Anyas experience with voluteer community outreach work in Estonia

Anya and Kathrin - happy to help! How it all Started: In my Master’s program, Adult Education for Social Change, my focus lies on...