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Clear the Mind of Pre-conceived Ideas and Get Your Hands Dirty! An Approach to Field-based Courses: The SLUSE-southern Africa Experience

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This paper explores an approach to problem-oriented, interdisciplinary field-based courses devised by university consortia in southern Africa and Denmark. The SLUSE (Sustainable Land Use and Natural Resource Management) model has been applied on six three-week field courses within southern Africa and trained over 200 students. Student groups composed of individuals from different academic disciplines that investigated problems specifically devised to integrate social and natural science approaches set the stage for an interdisciplinary approach. The field locations are in rural areas that have a legacy of marginalization, poverty and reliance on natural resources for at least part of their livelihoods thus allowing for environmental and natural resource issues to be investigated. Course evaluations show that students feel they gain invaluable exposure to the innovative field-based learning environment created by the SLUSE approach. The main benefit perceived by hosting local communities was an increase in their self-esteem and to harness the knowledge and experience gained from the courses to further enrich their own communities. On reflection, the students value the opportunity to work cross-culturally, and trying new techniques on 'real' issues. To many students the personal challenges they face adjusting to the demands of the field course are as important as the academic outputs.

Keywords: Field-based courses; group work; inter-institutional; interdisciplinary; problem-based; southern Africa

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, School of Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa 2: Institute of Geography, University of Copenhagen, Denmark 3: Department of Agricultural Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Denmark 4: Department of Geography, School of Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa 5: Department of Land Use and Mechanisation, University of Swaziland, Swaziland 6: Department of Environmental Science, University of Botswana, Botswana

Publication date: September 1, 2008

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