Intro Course Design

DESIGNING AN INTRODUCTION TO PERMACULTURE DESIGN COURSE

By Rebecca Harris October 2012

INTRODUCTION

I vividly remember the first time someone told me I should be a teacher. I was 16,and I found myself helping tutor my friends with their maths homework. Then, when I was in my last year at University, my mentor offered me the opportunity to teach Geography 101 to the freshmen students.

After University, I found myself in the Jungle in the Baddula District of Sri Lanka, teaching at a primary school for 6 months. The principle and I split the kids into 2 groups, and split the room into 2 halves. Half way through the day we would swap sides. This is what we did every day except the day that a man got trampled by an elephant, and the whole school went to his funeral….

Since returning to England, I have been teaching rock climbing. It was an obvious calling for me. I actually designed my pathway to becoming a fully qualified Rock Climbing Instructor, as part of my Permaculture Diploma. It’s minimum wage and absolutely superb. Some days I teach 8 kids who walk in at 6pm, with a bottle of mountain dew in their hands. Other days I teach kids who communicate with head movements, and I use a special harness to support them up the wall. It is an incredibly rewarding job. Most days I am reminded of how different my University life would have been had I discovered rock climbing sooner. I would have drunk less, and probably studied less too!

I’ve been planning to teach an Introduction to Permaculture Course, since I moved to Tavistock in February. It’s been a goal of mine for a long time. I have taught many workshops and short sessions, and I have shadowed and supported two Introductory courses, and one full design course. It was definitely time, and I felt very confident in my ability to share the material effectively.

I started designing my course in February 2012, and conversed with Transition Tavistock about it. I wanted to hold the course in Tavistock, and advertise heavily in Tavistock, so that it would be an opportunity for me to network, and settle into my community (Integrate rather then segregate). I planned to run the course in October, so that I could attend a teacher training course in August, and have plenty of time to apply everything I had learnt to my session plans before the course.

A friend mentioned the possibility of using the Friends Meeting House, in the centre of town, and when I contacted them, they said that I could rent the space for free/donation. This was great, because it meant I could keep my expenses down. Many courses at the moment are being cancelled due to low numbers, most likely a reflection on the state of the current economy. For this reason, I didn’t want to start forking out lots of money in advance. This was a boundary that I needed to work around throughout my course planning.

I wanted to have someone support me on the course, and I contacted a permaculture teacher who lives in Cornwall, Klaudia. She put me in touch with Matthew from Totnes, who had finished a Permaculture diploma, and was keen to shadow his first course. So I contacted him, and we used our need to meet as an opportunity to try our the new Riverford Restaurant in Plymouth. By this stage, I had registered myself as self employed and this was the first receipt that I kept for tax exemption – It was very exciting! Matthew, a maths teacher, was lovely, and I felt very confident that we would bounce off each other in a teaching environment very well.

DESIGN FRAMEWORK

I used the OBREDIMET framework for this design. I started observing – I shadowed 3 courses run by other tutors, and took detailed notes. I read the teachers manual, and learnt from other teachers about their approach to teaching introductory courses. I went to my local Transition Town meeting, and talked to other people, to learn about the area and what might be possible. I then brainstormed my boundaries and resources for running the course. I gave myself plenty of time between deciding to run the course and implementing it, so that I had plenty of time to evaluate what would be best for my course from all the information that I had gathered. I made a design – a flow chart of what I wanted to do to plan for my introductory course. I implemented my design, and got to work on preparing for my course. I have kept all of my materials from running my course to use again, so I can maintain the work that I have done. I took lots of feedback from my course and have evaluated how it all went, so that I can tweak my design for my next course.

OBSERVE

I shadowed Pippa John’s Practical Permaculture Intro course, Peter Cow’s Intro course, and Aranya’s Full Design course. I took detailed notes of their schedules and how they taught. I also talked to them about how they organised their courses. I read the teachers manual which I purchased from the Permaculture Association, and took detailed notes. I also went to local Transition Town meetings and discussed running a permaculture course with them.

I practised teaching at all the courses that I shadowed, and I facilitated a number of permaculture workshops of 1-2 hours at festivals and other events. I also hosted permaculture workshops at my house, which gave me more experience in teaching the subject.

I took detailed notes of all the props that various permaculture teachers used while they were teaching, and I took notes of how they used them, and how much they interacted.

I asked permaculture teachers about their personal pathways to teaching Introductory courses, and decided how much preparation I felt I would need before I could teach my own.

BOUNDARIES AND RESOURCES

EVALUATE

I decided that I was not comfortable facilitating my own permaculture design course until I had done a Teacher training course. Technically, I could have facilitated an Intro course back in 2009, after I had completed my Full Permaculture Design Course. However, I felt it was important to give myself plenty of time and build up my knowledge, so that I could provide a really good course (Use small and slow solutions).

I decided that it was important that I gave the course in Tavistock. I may have had a wider audience if I had provided it in Plymouth, but I wanted to do the course in Tavistock so that it would provide me with an extra function – helping me to settle into a new town and get to know my community (multiple functions).

I brainstormed all the different ways that I could advertise my course, and this list actually expanded and got tweaked as I came across new avenues of advertising (Multiple elements).

I decided that I would definitely do a wild food walk on my course, and have a good practical side to it, as this was something that I really appreciated on my courses and the courses that I had supported (Observe and Interact with Nature).

I made decisions on what I would charge on my course, based on what other people charged for their courses, my ranking in the world of permaculture teachers, and how much I wanted to run the course. I decided to charge £50 – a very low cost. I made this decision, because I would rather have more people come on the course and be able to run it, then try to make lots of money out of it. It was my first course, so I didn’t feel it would be fair to charge a higher rate. Also decided to offer a concessionary rate of £30 for anybody who said they needed it (Fair Shares).

DESIGN

ADVERTISING

To advertise my course, I tried to use as many different avenues as possible (multiple elements). I started by making a new page on my blog which detailed everything a course participant might need to know. Very honestly, I simply went onto another teachers website, copied what they had put, and edited it as I needed. I very much doubt that they would have minded! I then went onto the Permaculture Association’s website, and took advantage of the fact that the website can be added to by it’s membership. So in the course listings, I simply added my course. I then called the local newspaper. I can’t remember how much they said it would cost to advertise, but it was so much that my brain didn’t bother to try to store the information…..So I got creative. I wrote an article.

Everyone was talking about drought and hose pipe bans at the time. So I wrote an article about water saving, and the various permaculture inspired methods that I use to decrease my water inputs and maximise the amount of water outputs that I catch and turn into new inputs in my general life (Creatively use and respond to change). Such as peeing in a bucket instead of my toilet, diluting it was my used dishwater, and using it to water and fertilise my garden. I mentioned my blog and my upcoming course at the end of the article, and sent it into the editor, along with a photo of myself watering a fruit tree with my urine-dishwater-mixture. The next day it rained. It then rained solidly for the week before she printed it. Regardless, I had used the article to highlight how much money one could save through water-saving, and I was still very lucky to get the exposure.

I made flyers which I distributed around town, and used as an opportunity to get to know the people behind all of the stalls and shops who were keen to support me by putting my posters up. I also sent an electronic version of my flyer to all the Transition Towns and gardening groups in the area.

I noticed a “Green Events” poster in a local Organic restaurant, which lists all events in Devon with a green theme, so I contacted them. They were very very keen to help advertise my permaculture course, and the few short workshops that I was holding too. They were remarkably cheap at £8.

Every month a free booklet of information came through my front door called the Tavistock Diary, so I contacted them to ask about the cost of advertising in it. I don’t think it was that expensive, but asked them if I could do some delivery work in exchange for free advertising. I was just trying to keep costs as low as possible. They said no. However, spotting an opportunity for content, they asked if I would be interested in writing an article about what Permaculture was, in exchange for advertising. Absolutely!! So I wrote a one page article, discussing the systems approach of Permaculture by comparing two approaches of making a cup of tea. The modern, way, and the Permaculture way. They printed it straight away, with a photo of me with my ex-battery chickens and a photo of my daughter foraging for Pennywort. At the end of the article, there were details of my course and of my blog. On the following page, along with all the other events listings, my course was listed again. This was then delivered to every house in Tavistock!

PTTLS/TOT

When I finished my permaculture diploma in October 2011, I felt that the next step for me would be to do a permaculture teacher training course. Unfortunately, the next course being run coincided with a family event. So I had to wait until August 2012 to attend the Teacher Training course at the Inkpot in Lincolnshire, with Hannah Thorogood, Aranya, Jan Mulreany and Peter Cow. I really wanted to make sure that I had finished this qualification before I ran an Introductory course, so that I would be able to deliver a course which was of the same standard as a more experienced teacher (Use small and slow solutions). The 10 day intensive course lived up to my expectations, and I feel that the insight it gave me definitely helped me to provide a thoroughly thought through and well planned course.

DESIGNING THE COURSE CONTENT

When I shadowed Pippa John’s Introductory course at the Brighton Earth Ship, I took very detailed notes of everything she said, when she said it, and how she facilitated the participants learning. I then bought the Permaculture Teachers guide, and read it. In it were a few course schedules. I used these schedules and my notes to plan out my course. I picked and chose what would work best for me, in my venue. For instance, I really wanted to do a wild food walk, as this is something I am passionate about. I also wanted to do a practical sheet mulching exercise in my garden, as this is something I saw Pippa do, and I felt that it worked really well. As my venue was in the centre of the park, I planned to do a wild food walk along the river, which is always a really good place when I am foraging. My schedule got tweaked continually in the lead up to the course.

Going on the teachers training course also proved to be worth the time, effort and money. Specifically, I learnt about making session plans. I learnt about the importance of being really clear about the aims and learning outcomes of each session, and gaining feedback in different forms, continually. I learnt about the importance of having a kinetic learning activity after lunch, when everyone is feeling tired, and I changed my schedule around slightly, to make use of this. I was given the opportunity to practice delivering my sessions in a safe environment, which was also really useful, and I gained tons of feedback (Apply self regulation and accept feedback). I used both the session plans I made when I was doing my Teacher Training course, on my Intro Course.

I made my course materials gradually throughout the 6 months of planning. I used old magazines to cut out pictures of elements in systems, and I borrowed some of my daughter’s toys also. I made principle cards and ethics cards, and collected wrappers and tubs for food choice props. I avoided buying anything, so that I didn’t have to pay anything, and also so I was pushed to reuse waste products and be creative about my recycling. I also printed out the handouts available of on the Permaculture Association website, which I found really useful.

PARTICIPANTS

Throughout the planning, I had people enquire about the course, but nobody booked and paid a deposit. A few people arranged to barter with me as I had stated clearly on my flyer that I was keen to barter. I also had someone enquire about the concessionary place that I offered. Then everyone seemed to back out, and just 2 weeks before the course was due, I didn’t think I had anyone booked. Although, nobody paid in advance, at last minute, I had 3 participants. Matthew was still keen to be involved, so that made 5 of us altogether. 2 participants were female and 1 male. This meant that plus Matthew and myself, there was a very nice male:female ratio, and a good range of ages too (Use and value diversity).1 participant paid my concessionary rate and 2 paid the full rate. Due to the small number, I cancelled using the Friends Meeting House as my venue, and I held the course at my house instead.

One participant had done an Introductory course previously and wanted a re-cap, another knew very little about permaculture, and the 3rd was somewhere in the middle. This meant that I had a very broad mix of knowledge about the subject.

One participant needed somewhere to stay on the Saturday night, so I offered that he could use my sofa bed at no extra cost. Another participant asked if she could bring her dog with her. I checked with the other people in the group, and said that this was fine. This was my way of making everyone feel able to come on the course. I will never forget when I did my PDC with a 9 month old baby, and was offered a family room so that my daughter and her father could stay, at no extra charge. It is a really beautiful aspect of the people care that the permaculture philosophy embraces.

IMPLEMENTATION

The day before the course, I prepared by buying tea and biscuits, walking along the route I planned to take the participants for the wild food walk, and preparing for the practicals. I wanted to do sheet mulching, so I collected cardboard and wood chip and left it in the garden. I also wanted to explain my tyre wormery, and it conveniently needed more straw stuffed in the sides, so I made sure this was available. I got all the tools and gloves that I would need, and left them somewhere convenient.

I got out all my course materials and paper and pens, and left everything where I would need it.

On the morning, 1 participant showed up early, and so was around while Matthew and I ran through the plan for the weekend. He didn’t seem to mind, and I made him feel comfortable about using the kitchen and helping himself to what he needed. This wasn’t so ideal, but it was fine. When everyone arrived, we got the kettle going, had a quick tour of the garden, and then sat down around my dining table with our tea to begin. Throughout the day, I ensured that I was mixing everything up, by moving the group between the living room, the dining room, the garden, and out for a walk by the canal. For each session, I had specific times scheduled, but I also allowed for the schedule to be flexible. I had elements of the schedule which were drop-able, and extra activities at the ready, in case my times got tweaked a lot (Creatively use and respond to change). On the first day, I kept to my time schedule very well, and it all went very smoothly. On the second day I found that I had not allowed enough time for the client interview. I decided that it was really important to go through it, so I tweaked the schedule and let the participants finish it. I basically let them go through a very detailed observation of their own projects, but let them go home at the end of the day to start designing them on their own.

FOOD

I let all the participants know in advance that I expected them to bring food to share. 1 participant opted out due to personal food requirements, but the rest joined in, and lunch on both days was fantastic, varied, home-grown and yummy. On the evening of the first day, I suggested that anyone who wanted to, could go to a local organic restaurant for dinner. 2 participants and myself did this, which was really nice.

FEEDBACK

I got continual feedback from participants during the course by asking if everyone understood and how everyone was feeling. I particularly asked everyone at the end of each session, to make sure that everyone was ready to move onto the next segment.

My feedback was excellent! Everyone seemed to enjoy the course, the venue, and the food. Participants seemed to think that the wild food walk was a highlight, and suggested that I could have done more outdoor practical work. It was also agreed that it was good that I had re-capped the permaculture principles multiple times (Apply self-regulation and accept feedback).

One participant saw my flyer pinned up in the newsagents. Another found it listed on the permaculture Association website. Another knew about it directly from me – I met her through a Transition Tavistock Eco-homes event. His is valuable information that I will use in the future.

COSTINGS

MONEY OUT

Printing £3

PTLLS £600 ish

Green events listing £8

Meeting with Matthew to discuss course £17

Travel expenses for Matthew £15

Add in newsagents £12

TOTAL EXPENSES: £655

MONEY IN

Full participants x 2 £100

Concessionary participant £30

TOTAL INCOME: £130

TOTAL PROFIT: -£525

EVALUATION

I feel that I facilitated a very well thought through course, because I gave myself plenty of time to design and plan. I feel that I learnt a lot along the way, and I am really pleased with the journey that I took. I am specifically pleased with the creative ways that I came up with for advertising my course. I not only managed to find a few avenues for advertising for free, but I made connections with local businesses, and I had the opportunity to teach more people about permaculture through having articles printed. Even if people didn’t book onto my course, they have been introduced to the concept. Lots of people have told me that they saw my various articles (Use edges and value the marginal).

Participating in a teacher training course before I ran my Intro course was superb. I feel like I am a much better teacher, and I feel that I have been given skills which I use not only in teaching Permaculture, but also in teaching rock Climbing. When it came to delivering the course, I felt very relaxed and prepared.

It is a shame that there were not more participants, but in many ways, it was nice to only have a small group for my first course. I don’t think I could have advertised the course more – I think it is a reflection on the current economic climate, as many courses are having to cancel at the moment due to low numbers of participants. I enjoyed being able to hold the course at my own home, and felt that it made the course very intimate. I couldn’t have done it with more people. Also, it turned out that there was a massive funfair right outside the friends meeting house on the weekend of my course. As I am new in town, I had no idea that this would have been the case, and in hindsight, the friends meeting house would have been an awful venue! The solution was very much in the problem!!

My props seemed to work well, although I need to source some better ropes for doing the zones and sectors session. Also, I think I will put strings on my elements cards for the web of life game, so that they can be put around the participants necks. I had to be creative to do the web of life game, and used a tree branch and the washing line as well, because I didn’t have enough people. It was fine, but a bit awkward.

Matthew and I bounced off each other very well, and I thoroughly enjoyed having him with me. I liked that we had a male:female balance, and I appreciated his input on the course. I felt our personalities worked well together, and I have planned to run another course with him next year on his property. I had planned to keep in touch with Matthew throughout the planning for my course. This is something I felt was really important, and it is something that I failed to do as much as I wanted to. I discussed this with Matthew, who agreed that he would have liked to have had more contact. I will be more disciplined with myself in the future.

A huge yield of my course is that I now feel very connected in Tavistock (Integrate rather then segregate). I feel like I have made many connections in town, and that many people have given me the opportunity to tell them what permaculture is and why it is something I am so passionate about.

I have also now done all the ground work, so my time input to my next course will be massively reduced (80:20). I need to tweak my props slightly, but they are already made. I have all the contacts for advertising, and I know which avenues worked best. I also have my course schedule, which I tweaked during my course, and I am now really happy with it.

PRINCIPLES AND ETHICS:

Earth Care If I teach permaculture to other people, more people will be caring for the earth.
People Care I teach permaculture to help other people help their communities and other communities.
Fair Shares I offered concessionary places and offered that I was happy to barter with people for the course, to make sure that everyone was able to come on the course, regardless of their income.
Observe and Interact I shadowed 3 courses before I ran mine, and practised teaching on the courses and during my TOT/PTLLS
Apply self-regulation and feedback I took a lot of feedback during my TOT/PTLLS and tried to learn from it in advance of my course. During my course I asked for feedback during and after the course, which I used to tweak my teaching during the course and I will use it for my future courses.
Obtain a yield Many people have heard about permaculture through my articles. 3 people have completed a permaculture course. I have a full pack of materials to teach Intro courses in the future. I have a complete list of places to advertise in future, and I know which ones worked best. I am a better teacher.
Use and Value renewable resources and services I can teach and inspire other people to use and value renewable resources and services.
Produce no waste I used waste products as props for teaching, and all the paper used during my course got composted.
Integrate rather then segregate I tried really hard to advertise my course in Tavistock so that it would help me to integrate into my new community. It was a shame that the course wasn’t more populated by local people.
Use small and slow solutions I took a long time to plan this course. Technically, I could have facilitated a course a long time ago, but I wanted to make sure I had given myself lots of time to build up my experiences and slowly get ready for my course.
Use and value diversity I advertised in as many places as I could, using different means. I also specifically asked someone to support me on the course who was male, to have a good male:female balance.

9 Responses to Intro Course Design

  1. Interesting post! I have shared it in the Facebook Diploma group thanks

  2. Rachel Woodisse says:

    Rebecca are you in the fb diploma group? We would love to have you if you’re not? You could link your blog there, more people would read it as well. 🙂

  3. Janet Hunt says:

    I only found out about the course the day before, and it was too late to arrange to come from Falmouth, Cornwall. I hope you will do another course, I will certainly attend.

  4. Susan Cousineau says:

    Rebecca, I found this post incredibly helpful — it was almost like a master plan for hosting an intro course! Great work. Thanks for the awesome contribution to permaculture and good luck!

    • 🙂 As I receive this half way through running another intro course in which I used my previous design and definitely felt the 80:20 principle in effect, I’m really glad to hear this. Please use and share freely! My big change this time round is that I didn’t heavily advertise locally. I concentrated on advertising on the Permaculture Association web site and I emailed a flyer to all local-ish transition groups. I’ve had a much better turn out this time.
      Good luck with yours!

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