Workshop Report: Teaching the Wadden Sea through Literature 2

After an exploratory online workshop on “Teaching the Wadden Sea through Literature” in June 2021, Eveline de Smalen organised a follow-up workshop in collaboration with the Waddenacademie on 16 and 17 November 2021. While it was scheduled as an in-person event, the worsening Covid-19 situation in Europe and the Netherlands in particular meant that it had to be moved online at the last minute. Thanks to the good will and flexibility of all participants, the move online went as smoothly as could be hoped for.

The first day of the workshop started with a short introductory presentation by Meindert Schroor titled “Cultural History of the Wadden Sea Area in Relation to Literature.” In the presentation, Meindert addressed different perspectives that have been prevalent in writing on the Wadden Sea area over the past centuries and up to the present, including the perspective of the outsider, someone who visits the Wadden Sea area and describes fundamental differences between the Wadden Sea area and their home.

The workshop continued with discussions aimed to outline a university course syllabus. The first session focussed on identifying course objectives. Participants were distributed across three breakout rooms to discuss and then returned to share their results with the group. Anders Ehlers Dam, Frederike Felcht and Anat Harel (Werelderfgoedcentrum Waddenzee) talked about different institutions, departments and countries that could be involved. They identified the following course objectives: developing knowledge of theory and especially ecocriticism, developing knowledge of literary texts and developing ecological knowledge. Katie Ritson, Meindert Schroor, Gwenda van der Vaart and Anna-Katharina Wöbse also discussed the opportunities and challenges of teaching students from different disciplines. They suggested a course with a focus on representations of and perspectives on landscape in different media that would allow students to explore layers of meaning in a landscape. They also proposed including public outreach or conservation aims in the course. Linde Egberts, Femke Kramer and Eveline, meanwhile, discussed different innovative approaches to learning, for example, using problem-based learning and knowing by sensing. These approaches stimulate the creative and cultural development of students, their consciousness of the environment and of different environmental problems, and teach them to think critically about these and about their own position in the world.

In the next session, three new groups discussed different units that could be included in courses on literature and the Wadden Sea. Linde, Anat and Katie proposed a unit on creative writing and case-study led units. These case studies could be sourced from stakeholders so students can engage with real issues. Anders, Femke, Meindert and Gwenda talked about excursions at different times in the course, and suggested structuring a course around field trips: starting with a visit, then moving to classroom discussions of literature and finally returning to the field to allow students to reflect on different types of experiences. A journaling unit could be useful in monitoring progress. The group also suggested taking genre fiction into account. Frederike, Anna-Katharina and Eveline discussed creating mini-units that can be used to introduce interdisciplinary teaching in a disciplinary teaching environment. They also discussed alternatives to field trips to the Wadden Sea for institutes located further away, and suggested field trips to places that either have a direct connection to the Wadden Sea or speak to it in another way.

The following session saw a new set of groups in breakout rooms, which discussed collaborations with visitor centres and assessment. Frederike, Anat, Femke and Meindert pointed out the restrictions some institutes have in place for assessment, and discussed course projects that could reach out beyond the university or be of practical use in visitor centres. Linde, Katie and Gwenda discussed how a field trip to a tidal area that is not always easily accessible can serve as an object lesson of being not on human time, but on another kind of time, namely that of the tides or the seasons. They suggested that case studies can be a good way to get students to work on creative outputs that could also be used in visitor centres, including exhibition content or audio guides. Anders, Anna-Katharina and Eveline talked about creative projects as part of assessment, and suggested that to ensure the academic quality of the assignment and also keep the focus on academic skills rather than technical and creative skills, reflective assignments accompanying creative ones, such as an oral exam or a written response, are key.

The first day of the workshop closed with a plenary session on the practical implementation of the group’s plans. Several ideas were floated for funding sources and avenues to put the syllabus into practice as a course or summer school. The group also discussed compiling an anthology of Danish, German and Dutch Wadden Sea texts.

On the second day of the workshop, the group welcomed Sander van Dijk (Werelderfgoedcentrum Waddenzee) and Anne Husum Marboe (Nationalpark Vadehavet). Anne started the day with a presentation about literature in the educational programming at Nationalpark Vadehavet in Denmark. She discussed a project, Writing as a creative process, in which students attending a Danish boarding school went on a trip to the Wadden Sea, where nature guides and local authors gave them a tour and helped them write texts about their experiences.

In the final session, a final set of groups in breakout rooms discussed possible case studies that might bring together visitor centres and university students. Sander, Frederike, Katie and Anna-Katharina discussed the themes of biodiversity and dynamism/change. Anders, Anne, Femke and Eveline, meanwhile, discussed place theory in different configurations, relating to mediation, history and the insider/outsider perspective. They also suggested that students could compile a lexicon of Wadden Sea words.

The group is now working on putting together a resource from which lecturers can put together courses that fit their educational circumstances and requirements. This resource will be online soon, initially on the Corridor Talk website. If you would like to learn more about this project, you can request a more detailed workshop report from Eveline.

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