How Virtual Exchange is helping tackle Wicked Problems – UTFPR

Nov 21, 2022 | 0 comments

“This is ultimately a community school project teaching food security and values to children in deprived areas. The school has made incredible strides in penetrating a difficult community and transmitting government recommendations to the people and in creating a safe space for students in the form of a little house where people can come and sit and be calm” (Dr Libia Patricia Peralta Agudelo, landscape ecology expert and postgraduate teacher on sustainable building, UTFPR)

It’s safe to say that the Sustainable Cities and Communities virtual exchange pilot project is already punching way above its weight.

The ripple effect from the academic world into the community encapsulates just what a virtual exchange should be. Tutors and students moving out of their comfort zones and expertise to engage and learn about the needs of less well-off local communities is beginning to bear fruit.

Dr Patricia Peralta and Dr Eloy Casagrande have spearheaded the initiative with gusto right from the start: from the training and planning phases, through to the execution and resulting data and research.

“It was a pilot and it was hectic,’ explains Patricia, “but I was very motivated by everything I learned during my VE training with UNICollaboration. In Brazil we have not had access to this sort of innovative pedagogical methods and I know we can really make use of this to help us reach a broader audience as most students do not have the opportunity to travel. This type of intercultural exchange can benefit enormously especially as a result of the vast amounts of knowledge and expertise that were shared throughout the 5+ weeks of our exchange.”

Students from the exchange, civil engineer, Fernanda Paes de Barros Gomide who focuses on social housing and digital story creator, Pedro Gomes Pereira, also from UTFPR but different campuses, concur.

Fernanda says, “I was so motivated to learn about the different tools. We used canvas, Miro, Padlet, Moodle and many others. It was a forced opportunity, but a good one all the same.”

Siderlene Muniz Oliveira, linguistic expert from Universidade Tecnologica Federal do Parana echoes the importance of digital tools and especially to on site tech support.

“We were very lucky to have mathematician Lilia de Souza Vismara, as she was also able to help us extract the data from the various sites. This would have been too much for myself and Patricia to do as tutors because we had so much else to focus on, but Lilia enabled us to see accurately how much the students were actually engaging with the material on our Moodle and what they were uploading. This is very important for future iterations as we will ultimately create a manual with guidance on how to undertake a VE.”

Participants and professors all share the enthusiasm for ‘moving outside of their comfort zones’ and the sharing and knowledge of different expertise made possible by creating a multidisciplinary multi-layered project such as this.

“We ended up with about 50 students to manage, with only a handful from Uppsala in Sweden’, explains Patricia. “In future I think we all agree we would like more balance within the groups in terms of nationality. But having students from different disciplines was totally fantastic,” she continues, to enthusiastic nods from Fernanda, Pedro and Siderelene. In fact, the Swedish students from Uppsala came up with the fantastic idea of creating a tourist circuit in the form of an edible path, in order to connect local initiatives beyond the community. This path also connects with existing green spaces that have been transformed into parks and squares because the children wanted safe spaces to play and practice sports also outside of school.

What is very special is what this project has taken out into the community. The resulting Secret Garden initiative has been the main element to emerge from the 4 smaller projects the VE was divided up into. After undertaking dozens of interviews in the local community to assess needs, and using a school as neutral ground for meetings, it is clear this VE will have far reaching ramifications beyond the walls of the university.

“A school is a safe space for people to come and sit and read,’ explains Patricia. “Mothers come and bring organic waste to the garden spearheading social transformation within the community. The teacher uses classical books, such as the English book, The Secret Garden, to demonstrate values and teach children for example, how to cook and eat well. This sort of initiative can help create good habits surrounding nutrition and other values.”

All the projects from this particular VE link to the Secret Garden with the main goal of improving children’s lives. It is a multidisciplinary project, where teachers from all disciplines are able to demonstrate how plants and the environment are interconnected. Ultimately, it’s a ‘tool’ for children to learn how to care for themselves by understanding nature.

As sustainable housing experts, Patricia and her team are also helping to refurbish the little house in the Secret Garden by getting materials from local businesses.

What better legacy could there be from a pilot VE project than to begin to improve the lives of the local community?


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