There are thousands of ways to plan for an awareness session to introduce students to ecosystems. It depends on the region, culture, medium of instruction, the resource person’s style and the content. But, one indelible fact to remember while planning for this in today’s scenario is, every session must provide an experience for the students and not mere dissemination of knowledge.
The planning phase of an awareness session can be compared to a chef taking stock of all the ingredients needed to make your favourite dish, an astronaut doing groundwork for a space sojourn, and a filmmaker choosing the right equipment and accessories for a shoot.
Here are 8 pointers that I keep in mind while planning for a 40 to 60-minute session that involves screening a documentary or using a deck of slides followed by an interaction.
Ask yourself five questions
I ask myself five key questions before I plan every session, whether I was notified of it just the night before or a few weeks early. These are the key questions I reflect upon when I start to plan an awareness session.
Why am I doing this session?
Who is my audience?
What should be the desired learning outcome?
How should the students feel when they leave the class?
What should I say to conclude the session?
Once I answer these questions, I work backwards.
Keep a fluid and coherent framework
In a recent workshop that I co-conducted at Maha Sarakham University in Thailand, I spoke about different camera angles that are used to tell an effective story. When I left the room, the next professor tied in my session with an introduction to how the shot compositions can be used for social marketing, which was her class. This ensures flow.
"Coherence between topics and the way it is connected to your awareness session is extremely important. Keeping a fluid framework is a great way to ensure that a flow is maintained."
Here is an an example that I jotted down for my recent session in a workshop.
Compile a Factsheet
Compiling a factsheet and verifying them comes to aid in two ways. a) When in front of an audience, with enthusiasm, we might want to provide as much information as possible, for example, right from how the Western Ghats was formed to the recently discovered species. In such a scenario,
"Distilling key facts and compiling them as a sheet helps us not to go off tangent from the topic."
b) When students or teachers ask questions about the source of the fact/data, we will know where to point out.
Make the session relatable
Giving a local context to the audience is extremely important, because students can relate to what’s happening in their backyard much better than what’s happening outside. For example, when I talk about climate change in Hawai’i, I look for the the local data of sea level rise, and everything that’s relevant to the topic. When in Rajapalayam, I ask people about water shortage and other pressing environmental issues. So,
"No matter what the session is, collecting information from local resource people, news dailies and the internet will come handy to make the session as relatable as possible to the students."
Check the media
When showing a documentary, it’s better to play it once to see and make sure there are no glitches. When using a slide deck, it’s advisable to check and ensure that the flow is right.
"The last thing we would want when creating an experience is a technical stumbling block!"
Keep it simple.
There is nothing much I can say here other than not to overload students with information right from climate change to air pollution, from anthropocene to eco-bricks, and from evolution to economic benefits of saving forests. They dilute the focus.
"Remember. Less is more."
Prepare resources for way forward
Leaving students in limbo is the worst thing that can happen, especially when an external resource person comes in for a day to talk about the environment. So,
"It’s pertinent to keep a few reliable resources and verified website links handy so that
interested students can learn more."
Practice. Practice. Practice
Spontaneity comes by practice unless you are gifted public speaker! After interacting with students for 8 years and conducting workshops, I do not compromise on practice. "So,
"Practice is everything."
Finally, we must document our awareness sessions, and keep in mind to plan them with the learner (the children) at its centre and the content tailored for them, and not the other way.
Suggestions, feedback and better ways to plan an awareness session are welcome. Please leave a comment below. Thanks!