Previous learning pathway: #diymasters
About a decade ago when I first moved to Berlin I realised that I probably should have found a Masters degree to study rather than flippantly moving across the world without a plan. Instead I not only blogged but tweeted about the idea of somehow doing a DIY Masters degree. People followed and cheered me on, I had a #diymasters hashtag and to this day I still have people from those years ask “what happened to the DIY Masters?”
While I did learn a lot and completed a Graduate Certificate in Adult Teaching and Learning, I never did “finish my DIY degree”. Instead the experience brought me a degree of online notoriety, new friends, a couple of pretty awesome jobs, I was interviewed for books and spoke at festivals, met my future husband and developed a deeper understanding of the challenges and benefits of studying outside of “the system”.
Through this process I learned that I loved learning and education and the ways in which formal and informal modes could be blended in meaningful and accessible ways. I was discovering that learning how to remake a sweater found on the street or how to host a conversation online was just as important for me as learning about the academic research that supported good modes of assessment.
Representing that learning in a way that was meaningful was difficult. Initially I’d latched onto the idea of framing my studies within media art (it was Berlin in 2008). At the same time I was realising that work focused on technology was not my cup of tea. The jobs I’d been so lucky to end up in as a result of my project took over much of the time I had available to study. I was living in a new town and had no local support system. I wanted to learn everything it seemed, so had no core theme of study, lacked a set of peers or mentors working on similar topics, and was working blind without any example of what a DIY Masters would look like, let alone a core philosophical or methodological approach.
Previous learning pathway: MSc SA at Center for Alternative Technology
A few years ago, just a couple of weeks after I participated in my first permaculture design course (PDC), I finally started an actual Masters degree which was in many ways fantastic. Not only was I passionate about the topics of sustainability and climate change adaptation, I was also learning alongside a crew of like minded people and making visits to one of the most unusual and beautiful campus I know of.
At the same time I was stuck in a Science context with a particular set of expectations on how knowledge should be taught, learnt and represented. Our topics of study included discussions of how climate adaptation could totally transform society for the better. Yet while we were learning in a rammed earth building and had some really exciting practical learning, for the most part we were still sitting in rows looking at Powerpoint in order to write 2000 word essays that replicated the modes of an existing system. For me, it was all a little frustrating. Still, I made my way through the degree, redesigned one of their modules to include participatory futuring exercises and stressfully wrote and passed a masters thesis.
Again though, I learnt a lot even though in retrospect I’d do things differently. Such is life.
Current Learning Pathway: Applied Permaculture Diploma
Which brings me up to now, May 2018. I’m about to formally sign up for my Applied Permaculture Diploma within the British system. It feels like I am finally setting out to do an actual #diymasters project, but this time in the far more supportive arms of permaculture. Permaculture diplomas are a roughly structured, but self-organised learning journey which demonstrate how an individual is using permaculture design and practice in their life and work.
Technically the diploma process can begin immediately after one has completed a PDC, but in my case a related masters degree got in the way. Having reread through the diploma guidelines for about the 6th time it feels like the positive and negative experiences of the studying a formal masters can only make my diploma experience better.
As a preliminary exercise for my Learning Design (AKA Action Learning Plan, Design Learning Plan) I’ve started thinking in more details about my goals for the Diploma. As part of this I’ve written the first draft of a personal Holistic Context. This is a tool that comes from Holistic Management, the land, farm and life management system developed by Allan Savory. Preparing a Holistic Context includes identifying the whole being managed (a farm, organisation or in this case, an individual) , the decision makers, stakeholders and the supporting social, ecological, physical and economic resource bases. Once the whole is defined you then describe the desired quality of life you are working to achieve and the optimum state you want your resource bases to reach with your assistance and management.
Using Holistic Mangement techniques for goal setting, project framing and decision making is increasingly being recommended as a core stage of regenerative and permaculture design by people I respect like Byron Joel, Milkwood Permaculture, Dan Palmer and Darren Doherty. My partner and I use this as a way of framing our relationship and I am also using Holistic Management in my work with Fair Harvest Permaculture, an organisational design that will also be part of my diploma.