Pedagogy and role-playing games for monitoring and restoration in watersheds and biological corridors

Ph.D. program plan (preliminary draft for application purposes):

For the past seven years (2006-2012), I have been coordinating at the University of Costa Rica (Development Observatory –OdD-UCR) a project focused on “teaching teachers to teach ecohealth”, now a collaborative nation-wide interuniversity in-service professional development program for public elementary and secondary school teachers in the field of environment and health.

My Ph.D. program plan aims to develop ongoing action-oriented research at UCR on the conceptual models implied in this evolving experience, for two related dimensions: the pedagogy of teaching, learning and doing ecohealth monitoring and restoration, and, at a more specific and detailed level, pertinent ecohealth management models for educational role-playing computational games at a local territorial scale.

The dissertation will focus on two biological corridor (BC) experiences currently in progress in southern Costa Rica: the Alexander Skutch BC, and the Bosque de Agua proposed BC (BABC), led by neighboring communities with funds from Costa Rica’s second debt-for-nature swap with the U.S. The BABC will establish a large longitudinal buffer area on the verge of the La Amistad world heritage biosphere reserve, protecting local water springs and water flows to the Diquís hydropower project, one of the largest in Central America.

The ecohealth teaching context

Public educational policy in Costa Rica includes mandatory ecohealth themes with a transdisciplinary, value-driven and attitudinal-oriented approach. But implementing such an advanced policy is a practical challenge: pre-service higher education for elementary and secondary school teachers is not specifically addressing this policy, the Ministry of Education’s professional development institute does not yet include such continuing in-service programs for teachers, and there are no specific incentives for efforts from teachers to go beyond their disciplinary curricular obligations.

In 2006, the University of Costa Rica began to develop such an in-service program for elementary and secondary schools, first in the immediate vicinity of its central campus (2006-2007), then expanding in 2008 to other educational circuits in the Great Metropolitan Area of San Jose, and in 2009 to other regions. This year it was joined by two other public universities, and by 2010, all four public universities in the National Council of Rectors (CONARE) were receiving competing grants from CONARE to work together in several educational regions throughout the country.

By the end of 2012, a thousand teachers in Costa Rica from 400 primary and secondary schools will have received a one-year modular course on educational innovation for integrated management of health and the environment (IE-GISA), representing up to five continuing education units out of a maximum of 20 which are acknowledged by the Civil Service through short courses for career qualification and salary purposes.

The course (at includes modules on extracurricular and curricular planning, pollution, and biodiversity, with facilitators and joint field-supervision from regional Ministry of Education bureaus.

In 2012-2013 the program is expanding to include more specialized second-year modules (Ecological Blue Flag certification, school and community-based monitoring and restoration, school gardens, systematization, Web-based GIS monitoring and simulation), and a pilot bimodal continuing learning platform with three educational bureaus in the southern region, one of the largest, poorest and most isolated in the country.

Pedagogy and role-playing games for ecohealth management in Costa Rican biological corridors

My dissertation will discuss this experience from pedagogical and role-playing game perspectives, making explicit the conceptual models sustaining these dimensions, and providing constructive recommendations for future work in the field.

The proposal aims to develop further two research projects registered this semester with the Vice-Rectorate for Research at the University of Costa Rica, extending to the end of 2013, in collaboration between myself as coordinator at the Development Observatory, and colleagues from the School of Teacher Training and the School of Computer Science and Informatics.

Pedagogy for monitoring and restoration in watersheds and biological corridors

The first research project (VI-748-B2-287), with the School of Teacher Training (EFD-UCR), is an inquiry into the cognitive, praxeological and didactic models relevant for monitoring and restoration activities with school teachers and students in watersheds and biological corridors.

Previous field work on this subject began in 2010 as part of the ecohealth teaching project, and is now in two school circuits within or in the vicinity of the proposed Bosque de Agua BC and the Alexander Skutch BC.

School teachers in these circuits are being introduced to national policies on the subject, and trained in basic monitoring concepts and techniques, using LaMotte water monitoring kits and PASCO dataloggers and sensors for water quality and climate. Our goal is to establish local school and community monitoring and restoration networks, as a key pedagogical tool for an inquiry-based scientific education.

My contribution in the project with EFD-UCR is research into the cognitive and praxeological models that are relevant in this subject. A key reference is Elinor Ostrom’s seminal work on socioecological systems in an institutional analysis and design framework, with a focus on action situations and a bounded-rationality view of actors in this context. With this framework, Ostrom and her colleagues at Indiana University advanced crucial perspectives on rules, games and common-pool resources. This is now being furthered by the Network for Computational Modeling for SocioEcological Science (CoMSES Net) and the Open Agent-Based Modeling Consortium (OpenABM), hosted by Arizona State University (Tempe).

Role-playing games

The second research project (VI-748-B2-268), with the School of Computer Science and Informatics (ECCI-UCR), intends to support the monitoring and restoration educational strategy with improvements and new functionalities for the “Participate in the Action” System for Spatial Problem Analysis –SSPA.

The project continues work begun in 2010 with the SSPA concept as part of the ecohealth teaching program; an alpha version of its Web-based GIS software is currently being tested with three secondary schools in the San Carlos municipality in northern Costa Rica.

The key goal in this new project phase is to develop monitoring and simulation modules for ecohealth education in the Volcán River subwatershed, largely within the Bosque de Agua biological corridor. The Development Observatory is collaborating there with other public universities and funding from CONARE for implementation of a watershed management program in the Volcán area, and I am leading the educational component with the public school system.

My contribution in the research project with ECCI-UCR develops further the pedagogy in monitoring and restoration, focusing on simulation models and role-playing games relevant to watershed management in Volcán. Two simulation prototypes are under consideration, developed respectively by CIRAD in Montpellier, France, with the CORMAS software, and by the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE), with its RANA simulation software for optimization of environmental flows in key rivers harnessed for hydropower (in the Reventazón and Térraba watersheds, the latter including the Volcán subwatershed). CIRAD has provided software code, and expressed an interest in further collaboration in adapting their role-playing educational game for secondary schools based on CORMAS modeling in the Isle of Ouessant (northern France). The ICE team is also actively collaborating, interested in community and Web-based extension work with their software, which will be updated in the next twelve months with support from the University of Oslo.