Creating an online, integrated permaculture site design. Interview with PDC Co-Instructor Andrew Millison, Beaverstatepermaculture.com. By Willi Paul, permaculturexchange.com
Oregon State University's Online Permaculture Design Certificate Course: Jan 9 - March 23, 2012
“This online Permaculture Design Certificate Course focuses on the Permaculture design system: it's fundamental tools and strategies that can be applied at scales from the home garden to city block to village to farm. Although rooted in horticulture and agriculture, Permaculture design is interdisciplinary, touching on a wide range of subjects including regional planning, ecology, animal husbandry, appropriate technology, architecture, and international development.
The combined Hort 285 & 286 certificate course takes students on a journey to design the site of their choice, where the curriculum and assignments all build towards the creation of an integrated site design.
The course consists of narrated slide shows by experienced Permaculture instructors, educational video tours with knowledgable guides, and interactive assignments, working towards the completion of a Permaculture site design. Students present their work on individual blogs, which are visible for other students to comment on, and through discussion boards the community of learning is encouraged.
Oregon State University’s online Permaculture course can be taken as an introduction to Permaculture (Hort 285) or as the full internationally recognized Permaculture Design Certificate Course (Hort 285 + Hort 286). Lead instructors Andrew Millison and Marisha Auerbach have a combined 30 years of experience working in the Permaculture world. Other teachers who have contributed content to the course through presentations or video clips include Heiko Koester, Erik Blender, Josho Somine, Tom Ward and others.”
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Interview with Andrew by Willi
Is permaculture a popular subject at OSU? How do you measure this?
Yes, Permaculture is increasingly popular, and I've finally hit a critical mass where the residential course fills on it's own without me needing to do any advertising within the university. My enrollment has increased steadily over the three years that I have offered the course, and I've received consistently positive feedback on student evaluations. The conventional measure of success here is enrollment numbers and evaluation scores, all of which are high for the Permaculture courses.
What has been the early feedback on the new course?
Marisha and I have run the course twice now, once last year as a regular semester course, and then another time this Spring-Summer-Fall for the state agency Oregon Housing and Community Services. We have gotten really good feedback overall, with some stellar design work produced. Students have been enthusiastic about the material, but that's expected because Permaculture is contagious as it is. We have made changes in how we give feedback on student work, and how students post their work as, a result of student feedback. But there haven't been any major changes to the content or the structure based on our first two times running the course.
Who is your target student?
I'll start by saying that I really encourage students to take a residential course if they can. But for many people that is not an option: stay at home parents, full time workers who can't get away, elderly or physically disabled people, or people who are geographically isolated and can't get travel. There are also people who just want to dive into the content of the Permaculture design system without the accompanying social dynamics of a residential course. We are not seeking to draw students away from site based courses in their area, we are hoping to open the possibility of a design course to those who don't have that option. We haven't experienced this in our course, but in OSU Ecampus a large demographic are active duty military stationed abroad who want to use their off time productively. You could do the work for this course any time of the day, or in 45 minute segments while the baby's napping.
What basic skills and equipment are needed t o participate?
The course starts at the bottom and sets the foundation from there, so no prior experience is necessary. However the more background one brings to the course, the more you have to draw upon. You need the ability to create graphic representations of your design and projects, and the ability to upload those to the web in a legible way. Some people draw and then take a digital photo. Some folks use a computer program to create images, and some do a hybrid, depending on what skills and resources they bring to the table. Students are not judged on their artistic ability, however a background in art or design goes a long way.
As to site selection, can groups of students work together if needs arise?
Yes. For the course we did for the state, they did work in groups. It is preferable, but can't be a requirement because of the geographic dispersion. If students do work in a group, there is a much higher expectation for the quality and quantity of work. It needs to be fair for everyone.
Are you concerned that foreign students will pick a site that will exceed the experience of the teachers?
Between Marisha and I we have experience in a diversity of dryland, temperate, tropical, and urban environments. The curriculum guides the student through a design process, much of that being regional and site based research, so we discover together the dynamics of places never visited. Our best student from the first class is from Louisiana, and we were successful in guiding her process in an area neither Marisha or I had spent time. But the Permaculture pattern language and design process stand on their own whatever the location on Earth. We have yet to have a foreign student, but I look forward to learning about a new place.
What are the required credentials for your teachers?
Marisha and I have both taught PDCs for over 10 years and have been designing and practicing for 15 years with many projects completed and documented. We both teach for the Cascadia Permaculture Institute and are recognized by our peers and elders for running a legitimate Permaculture Design Course. There are years of feedback and evolution for both of us instructing Permaculture, with many students who have gone on to make this their lives. I completed a Master's degree which is the credential required by the university, and the curriculum for this course was accepted by the Horticulture Department, with 3 years of feedback now within the university community.
Tell us how the discussion boards and blogs will mesh together?
Students post all assignments to a blog and are required to comment on other student's work. Instructors now will give feedback on the blogs as well (that's a change we've made). The discussion boards are a little more peripheral, the majority of the conversation centers around the blogs and feedback around the student's work.
I assume that OSU provides the blog?
Yes, it's part of the Blackboard system. The infrastructure of OSU's Ecampus is the reason why we can put together this course in a way that would be very difficult on our own. The resources of the university system are extensive and there's always someone available to work through any problems or glitches.
What course elements / processes are from a traditional PDC and which have been created by OSU?
Yes, OSU didn't really create any of the content, unless you see me as OSU. The content comes from Marisha, myself, and the other instructors who contributed to the course. OSU helped with doing the grunt work of editing video footage and obtaining copy write permissions and uploading the content. It's really the Permaculture design system that we're teaching, without the hands-on group dynamics that are emblematic of a traditional PDC. For some people this is just what they need. For others it's totally not. I am working to stretch this field farther to reach more people. We need the Permaculture paradigm to blast into mainstream consciousness, NOW!
amillison at gmail.com