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Learn To Engage - a modular course for botanic gardens
Start date: Sep 1, 2016, End date: Aug 31, 2019 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Learn to Engage: A modular course for botanic gardens (LearnToEngage) seeks to build botanic gardens’ capacity to develop effective programmes and activities to engage people with plants. Researchers have noted a worrying decline in public interest in and understanding of plants, at the same time as others are calling for greater public awareness of biodiversity, conservation and the value of plants. Botanic gardens, as institutions that hold documented collections for the purposes of education, scientific research, conservation and recreation (Wyse Jackson, 1999), have the potential to be places wherein our disconnection with nature is re-established. Dodd & Jones (2010) point out that if botanic gardens are to stay relevant to the 21st century world they need to examine their role within a framework of social and environmental responsibility. Common to most botanic gardens is the desire to broaden their audiences, and to undermine the perception that they are just for a particular elite of white, middle-class, older people. But as Dodd & Jones (2010) point out this also requires skills that many botanic gardens professionals may lack. The LearnToEngage Partners will design and pilot a modular blended-learning course. The units of the course will be Working with Diverse Audiences, Interpretation, Science Communication, Research and Evaluation. This will offer botanic garden professionals a flexible Professional Development opportunity that will promote equity and inclusion in botanic garden education and encourage the delivery of high quality, well researched, innovative public engagement. The project has the following objectives:-Enhance inclusive education in botanic gardens through practitioner training-Develop innovative blended learning models for training botanic gardens on public engagement (what we want to do)-Enhance botanic garden professionals’ access to C-VET through embedding training in the digital era (why we want to do it)-Improve services through training on new areas of work for botanic gardens-To support the development of transnational standards for evaluating informal education -Increase botanic gardens’ capacity for showcasing the value of plants and plant science to society. The overall project methodology will include four overlapping phases. Each phase will correspond to the development and piloting of a unit and will include the following major elements: -Designing the course structure and content. This will be included in two intellectual outputs (Trainer Handbook and Participant Handbook) and online resources-Piloting the unit and collecting evaluation data-Reflecting on the delivery of the course and analysing the evaluation data-Finalising intellectual outputs including course structure and contentEach unit will be led by a different botanic garden who has expertise in the area of focus. RBGE will lead the Working with diverse audiences unit, ULisboa will lead the Research and Evaluation Unit, in collaboration with NTU and MUSE will lead the Interpretation unit and the Science Communication unit, in collaboration with BGCI. The courses will be delivered onsite at the leading Partners garden and online through RBGE’s Virtual Learning Environment (Propagate Learning). The project will deliver training to 80 botanic gardens professionals from approximately 44 gardens in the UK, Italy and Portugal. Special attention will be paid to ensuring that priority is given to gardens with small funding, those who have not previously attended comparable training and for other reasons do not have access to professional Development training. Considering the respective audiences of the potential participant and the Partner gardens, the public engagement produced or influenced as a result of the project has the potential to reach up to two million visitors. The units delivered as part of LearnToEngage will be seen as a pilot. It is hoped that the project Partners and other gardens around Europe and the world, will use the Participant and Trainer Handbooks, developed through the project, to deliver further LearnToEngage courses. Considering the fact that botanic gardens see over 500 million visitors each year (Sharrock, 2015), the potential in-direct audience of the project is very large and therefore the project has the potential to be effective in reconnecting the public with nature and engaging them with plants. Through delivery of the project it is expected that participants in the units will further develop their ability to produce effective public engagement and engage new audience groups effectively, as well as sharing their learning with their colleagues, in this way the project will improve the public engagement offered by botanic gardens in UK, Portugal and Italy. This will in turn, improve the botanic garden visitors’ understanding of plant science and conservation and reduce barriers to their participation.
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