Connecting when the world was disconnecting
Overseas field classes are one of the highlights of our International Development Masters programme, giving students first-hand experience of research in a developing country. But this year, with borders closed and flights grounded, there was no way that field classes could go ahead. Instead, we had to take a virtual approach.
“We wanted to keep a sense of real connection with the country we were due to visit “ says Teaching Associate Margi Bryant, who leads the Nepal field class. “We’ve been running a Nepal field class for nearly 10 years and we’re very fortunate in having close links there, especially with our wonderful partner organisation, Green Tara.”
Green Tara is a Nepali NGO working in public health and community development, especially with marginalised communities. Its Director, Ramchandra Silwal, has also been closely involved in disaster response work and has a keen interest in research-based policy.
“We were very happy to help Sheffield University students get the best possible experience in the circumstances” says Ram. “I contacted colleagues and associates who had appropriate expertise and a reasonable internet connection, who could offer different views and insights into development issues in Nepal.”
Green Tara put us in touch with 14 professionals in the fields of public health, community development, forestry, agriculture and disaster relief, who generously gave us their time. Students worked in groups, adapting their projects into research that could be done remotely, then setting up Skype meetings with informants. Findings were shared and discussed in online meetings with field class staff Margi Bryant and Matt Watson, in place of the evening debriefs we would have had in Nepal.
Students are now writing up their projects and will be putting together some key findings and reflections in a report for Green Tara, to convey the department's appreciation. We’re looking forward very much to working with our Nepali colleagues on the next field class, in Spring 2021, when we hope we can really go to Nepal!
The virtual field class allowed us to connect at a time when the world was disconnecting. It was great to have the opportunity to speak with key informants in Nepal. Our conversations were engaging and gave us a chance to experience the unpredictability of research in practice. I really enjoyed it and feel grateful to have had this experience at such an unprecedented time.
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