An innovative Antarctic education project
Sustainable management of the vast Antarctic continent by the developed and developing countries active in that region is dependent on a thorough understanding of the biophysical and social, economic and political processes that determine its state of health.
Earlier this year, John Hay acted as Programme Coordinator for a course leading to a Certificate in Antarctic Studies. He was assisted by Brian Stewart of the University of Otago, Associate Programme Coordinator. The course was offered by the University of Canterbury for the first time in January to March 1999. The goal of the course is to engage participants in a critical examination of the contemporary scientific, environmental, social, economic and policy issues and debates facing Antarctica.
The new course in Antarctic studies is noteworthy for a variety of reasons: its interdisciplinary approach to teaching at the postgraduate level; the use of diverse instructional methods including field-based studies in both New Zealand and the Antarctic; the use of student-facilitated fully-interactive video links with international experts; regular telephone links with Scott Base in Antarctica; the high level of inter-university participation and collaboration; and partnerships between the University, government agencies and the private sector.
The course is taught in four sections: four weeks at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand; ten days in Antarctica for experiential learning; a further week in Christchurch for presentations of the results of syndicate and other work; and six weeks of home-based learning where students complete a supervised project and other studies. Overall, the intensive course is equivalent to six months of full-time study.
The knowledge base developed by the course is organized under five major themes: New Zealand and Antarctica, commonalities and linkages; Antarctica as an extreme environment; human involvement in Antarctica; the global influences of Antarctica; and Antarctic futures. These themes were investigated from many perspectives, including science, technology, history, art, literature, law and geopolitics.
This year, the syndicate groups worked on four interdisciplinary topics: emerging fisheries, threat or opportunity; tourism, where to; human artefacts in Antarctica, treasure to be conserved or junk to be removed; and, Antarctica: a strategic asset?
Challenges addressed during the development and implementation of the course included achieving a postgraduate level of learning in the absence of specific prerequisites, achieving an integrated and balanced curriculum given the breadth of potential subject matter, full costing of the teaching activities, and highly polarized attitudes to the course itself.
The course underwent an evaluation of its environmental effects prior to being approved by the University of Canterbury and by Antarctica NZ. One student also undertook an environmental audit of the course.