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A Conservation Tools course with a twist

By on April 16, 2021 in News

As with many people around the world, EDGE have had to change the way we conduct training, and the 2021 Tools Course was no exception. Rather than jetting off to Costa Rica to be able to give Fellows hands on experience in the field as well as theoretical learning, we headed onto Jitsi Meet for a two and a half week course!

From power outages to pets running into walls on camera, it certainly brought up new challenges for the Fellows and staff. Read on to find out how two of the Fellows, Carolina & Nico, found the slightly different format of the 2021 Tools Course.

Using Mentimeter to collate words describing EDGE

Carolina: “I am a woman from Mexico and I am a biologist. My main interest is conservation biology and I´m currently working with two endemic salamanders of Puebla, Mexico; when I heard about EDGE Fellowship Program I could not resist trying to get one of the Fellowships.

Around November I received one of the most exciting pieces of news of 2020. I was selected to participate in the Conservation Tools training course as part of the EDGE Fellowship Program supported by the Zoological Society of London. I remember the exact moment when I looked at the confirmation email and they were asking about our availability to take the face-to face course in Costa Rica, I could not contain my excitement and I am sure my neighbours could confirm about that happy moment.

Due to the situation of the pandemic, it was decided that the course would be online. The news was shocking and being honest I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to learn the basics of effective conservation. Anyway, it was only one day of sorrow because I realized that no matter how the course was given it would be a great opportunity for my early conservation career.

The first day arrived and personally I was very nervous to meet the ZSL EDGE staff and the other participants. I did not know how I was going to spend 6 hours in front of a computer taking classes with people in different parts of the world. It all started to flow in the best way, being from places as different as India to Guatemala or Mexico to Argentina was not a barrier to understanding each other, mainly because we were speaking the same language to communicate: English and the passion to preserve our unique species.

Carolina having a technical session with staff members

The staff always made learning online enjoyable, there was effective communication, feedback and discussions of the topics we were reviewing. Time flew by, especially when we put into practice what we learned in class. Two and half weeks of the course went by and without lying they were exhausting, but it has certainly left me with an incredible feeling of happiness because of all the learning acquired during training.

Another highlight of the online course was my classmates. I never believed that in a virtual way I could have such a close connection with people so far away from me. The mutual help, respect, and enthusiasm of each one were key pieces to be able to develop a friendship beyond class hours and that I undoubtedly believe will prevail throughout the program.

Was this online course a surprise? Yes, it was a great surprise. Perhaps we were not in person in Costa Rica as in other trainings; but it did not stop us all from doing our best, to transmit knowledge and learn from others. We are now looking forward to the opportunity to meet in person and continue to grow our conservation skills and emergent friendship.”

Online workshop practical

Nico: “On March 8, I embarked on a virtual odyssey that opened doors to new friends, knowledge and opportunities, as that day began the Conservation Tools training course, 2021 edition, as part of the EDGE of Existence programme, of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). From the day that I received the email where I was congratulated for having been accepted onto the course, expectations only went up regarding this course, which at first was thought to be face-to-face and was going to entail a trip to Costa Rica! But realistically, seeing that the world situation with regard to COVID-19 did not improve, I already had the suspicions that the course was going to be virtual, although I will not deny that when that fact was confirmed, I felt some disappointment. Nevertheless, the course was full of such varied tools for its development, as the general use of Jitsi for lectures, rapid surveys and competitions in Mentimeter, group meetings in, daily feedbacks on SurveyMonkey and one-to-ones on Skype; I have nothing but words of appreciation and congratulations to those who made this course such a complete experience.

Nico’s space during the course

I would like to mention two major aspects of this course, which for me were the most important: the excellent content and the amazing people. Regarding to the content, the course covered a wide range of topics focused on providing us with the best tools for the development of our projects during the Fellowship, and even for our professional lives after it. Personally, it is hard to say that I had some preferred content since I enjoyed every part, from the introduction to the programme, where they explained to us why it is important to work with EDGE species, going through project planning and management, time management, possible challenges, budget and even the ethical aspects, as well as the detailed review of the social aspects and the different social methodologies, to finally immerse ourselves in the ecological aspects and the statistical analyses that we can use with the data generated. Honestly, it was like a two-year course brilliantly summed up in two and a half weeks.

Notwithstanding the great content, there is no doubt that the best thing was to be able to meet such great people from so many different regions on the planet in such a short time. Let’s start with the classmates: there were representatives of Mexico (Ale and Carolina), Guatemala (Lourdes and Majo), Brazil (Rodolfo), Argentina (Sebas), Cuba (Margarita) and Paraguay (myself), and we quickly became allies in the face of the difficulties of the course, an alliance that day by day developed into trust and friendship. I must admit that we had a lot of fun in our WhatsApp group, where we were able to chat and help each other with the exercises and practices plus listening to our different accents in Spanish; and of course, we invited each other to visit our countries! We used the group to discuss about some course topics, share our emotions about our EDGE species and our projects, and to greet each other every day before starting the course.

Concentrating hard during lectures

I also cannot fail to mention and acknowledge the incredible teachers and colleagues who guided us along this path. As representatives from different regions of the world, they enhanced our ability to understand English and its different accents. When I speak of recognizing them, I am not only referring to the extremely effective way of presenting the contents, teaching, sharing, but also to the excellent attitude with us, as they were always open to us and our different realities. They juggled the schedule to fit everyone, made us feel in a safe environment, where we could express our doubts and problems without fear, made us feel like colleagues (like younger siblings). I can say with certainty that they accompanied the process of each of us closely, and thanks to them we have taken a great step to becoming better conservationists.”

All staff and Fellows on the 2021 Conservation Tools course