Professionals participating in online courses at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation were surprised by how close the experience came to an in-person one. ‘We learned how to connect, work and learn online. And we learned valuable lessons about how to apply tools online.’
When Olga Pérez started an online course on multi-stakeholder partnerships at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, she was a little apprehensive. She had followed an in-person course in Wageningen two years ago, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the course would be online this time. How would she be able to understand everything and learn as well online? And how would the course involve everyone while having that vital participant interaction?
Pérez is from Colombia and works in Bogota for AGROSAVIA, the national research centre for agriculture. ‘I have worked as a researcher for the past 20 years, mainly on roots and tubers, like potatoes. Now, I am also responsible for coordination of a network of stakeholders on roots and tubers with people from government, companies, and small- and large-scale farmers.’
As a scientist, Pérez didn’t have much knowledge or experience with facilitating multi-stakeholder partnerships, so she took a course to gain more experience. ‘I learned a lot about dealing with power and conflict and, as a group, we learned and practiced our communication with each other.’
Now, Pérez applies what she has learned about multi-stakeholder facilitation in her work.
Online learning here to stay
It was equally important for Pérez that she learned about how to work, engage and learn online. ‘I think working remotely or in ‘blended’ ways (both online and ‘live’) is going to become normal. For the last few months, my job has been based from home. And I think it will stay that way, at least partly. We will be working remotely more often , even when the pandemic is over, because remote learning and working bring us new opportunities. Bogota is a very crowded city; it can take two hours to travel to another part of the city for a short meeting. We have now learned new ways of meeting and we know it is very possible to really engage online and save a lot of time. This has opened our eyes.’
During the online course, the participants learned to work with digital tools, such as Zoom and Teams, but also with chats and a tool called ‘Jamboard’, where they can bring in ideas using an online bulletin board. ‘It was a mix of forms: we started with a chat, got lectures as a group, worked on assignments in small group sessions and did individual homework. I had some worries about the group dynamics – but it worked out well. The course leaders did a great job connecting us and creating a collaborative environment. At the end, it was sad to say goodbye. It was almost like an in-person course. So yes, I can totally recommend online learning to other professionals.’
Senior scientist Mokhtar Harb Abdellatif was pleasantly surprised as well. He has a busy job as an associate Professor in Food Science and Technology at the Food Technology Research Institute (FTRI) in Cairo and as a lead inspector for Egypt’s National Food Safety Authority (NFSA). ‘I enrolled for the course on improving food systems in urban areas, but due to the pandemic, it was forced online. To be honest, my expectations were not very high. I had followed an in-person course on food safety in Wageningen before, and that was very good. I didn’t expect the online one to be as strong as the in-person one.’
Egypt has a large population living in a very small area. The topics in the course were very relevant to Abdellatif, because his work often deals with questions about how to feed the Egyptian population in a safe and sustainable way. ‘The ideas on urban food production were especially interesting. I chose to do a course at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation because the University is well known for the quality of its courses. It is one of the top universities in agriculture and food safety.’