Lisa Naughton receives course development grant for innovative classroom activity

Professor Lisa Naughton was awarded a College of Agricultural & Life Sciences International Programs (CALS IP) Science Internationalization Course Development Award for her project, “Who Owns Paradise? Competing Claims to Tambopata, Peru, a Last Wilderness Frontier”. The award supports the redesign and renovation of a role-playing exercise designed to ‘bring to life’ environmental science and public policy issues in tropical countries. It is an educational tool Naughton has used for over 10 years in Environmental Conservation (Geog/Env St 339), a class she co-teaches with Professor Matt Turner.

tambopataTambopata, a region of the Peruvian Amazon, is one of the most biologically diverse and least disturbed areas on the planet. Ecologists want to conserve its species-rich, carbon-heavy forests as do local indigenous people. But most other residents see Tambopata as a poor, isolated region with untapped reserves of timber, gold and farmland. To balance biodiversity protection with economic development, Peruvian officials invited local stakeholders (miners, indigenous people, loggers, ecotourism operators, etc.) to propose land use zoning maps to guide the region’s future.

In this role-playing exercise, students assume a real-life character role and participate in a public roundtable based on real events from Tambopata. By ‘putting themselves into someone else’s shoes’, students learn how environmental priorities and ‘environmentalisms’ vary for people coping with poverty and accustomed to ‘frontier’ norms of resource use.

Naughton estimates around 4,000 UW-Madison students have played the educational game in her class over the years. Many geography graduate students have helped strengthen the exercise as teaching assistants, most recently Andy Davey (MS’11, Geography) and Garrett Nelson, both doctoral candidates in Geography. But a lot has changed since the exercise was first designed. A new highway now bisects the area. Soaring gold prices have spurred a mining boom in local rivers. Forest carbon investors and biofuel industrialists are now in the area. A new round of participatory zoning is underway.

The CALS grant will allow Naughton, alumna Nora Alvarez (MS’01, Geography), and incoming graduate student Mikaela Weisse (BS’13, Environmental Sciences, MS’15, Geography), to update the exercise to reflect the new dynamics of conservation at Tambopata. As part of that effort, they will travel to the Peruvian amazon this summer to interview local leaders and assess recent zoning and conservation initiatives.

And thanks to Professor Rob Roth and a team of geography students in his Interactive Cartography & Geovisualization class (Geog 575), the exercise will now have a companion interactive map. The map, created by Grace White (BA’13, Geography and Cartography & GIS),Masrudy Omri (BS’14, Cartography & GIS) and Mikaela Weisse, will help students better understand their assigned characters from the Peruvian Amazon and give more insights into the place and public negotiations about forest conservation.

Science Internationalization Course Development Awards are funded through the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates (MIU) and support the enhancement of undergraduate student learning by expanding best practices and innovation in teaching and learning, curricular design, and student services.

Author: Geography Staff

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