Water in Ethiopia: three activities for students

MEDEA Highly Commended 2010

MEDEA Awards Highly Commended 2010

These three multimedia activities were developed in 2009 as part of a distance learning module of the Open University (OU) in the UK. The module, ‘Environment: journeys through a changing world’ takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching environment and sustainability to new undergraduate students of all ages. Approximately 2000 students have completed the module since it started. It will be presented for several years to come and is available throughout Europe.

The module is divided into six blocks of study that take students on a journey to six different locations around the world. Focusing on Ethiopia, these three self-contained DVD-based activities are an integral part of Block 3 of the module. Students use printed books as their primary learning source and are referred to the DVD as required.  The three activities use a blend of video and other resources to teach specific aspects of water use and water resources management. By incorporating questions, they encourage students to explore the learning resources and extract key points of information.

A video excerpt from Water in Ethiopia: three activities for students

The first activity 'Water at home' is an introduction to water access issues and also provides an opportunity for students to gather and record data of their own. It features a short video showing how two Ethiopian women obtain and use water. Students are then invited to compare this with their own water consumption by measuring their own water use at home. Secondly, 'Ways of getting water' describes and compares three contrasting sources of domestic water supply in Ethiopia – a river, a handpump and well, and piped urban supply.  The resources include three videos with supporting text, diagrams, still images and a set of brief video clips from an interview with Michael Assefa, a natural resources consultant. The intended learning outcomes are to identify factors affecting the availability of water, illustrate the links between water quality and land use, describe technologies used in the provision of water and consider the sustainability of the different sources. The third activity, called 'Ethiopian river story', shows the use of water for irrigation in north-west Ethiopia, and how conflict and co-operation can arise from competition for a limited resource. It is designed to demonstrate how the action of upstream users of a river affects downstream users and how sharing limited resources can lead to conflict.

The video components of the activities, modified for viewing without the supporting text and other resources, can be downloaded free from iTunesU.

What the judges said of this entry:

Aesthetically the website design is quite simple with a clear structure, to the point and is easy to navigate. The user interface is attractive and within the style guide defined by the Open University. The DVD supports part time independent study by new undergraduate students (ages 18 to 80+), with well-addressed activities and assessment questions that can measure the e-learning effectiveness and that are well designed for distant learners. It gives a good impression of how media can be used, and where video, animation and audio were used, they are of very high quality. The entry is a pleasant experience and straightforward, with very well made and attractive materials.

About the creation of Water in Ethiopia: three activities for students

In common with all OU modules, these multimedia activities are produced by a team of people.  The lead author and creator of the activities was Pam Furniss. The videos, commissioned by Chris French of the Open University, were produced by Nomad Productions (Simon Lawson, dir. Nancy Platt).  DVD design was by the OU LTS team (Sophia Braybrooke, Vicky Eves, Alison George, Lynn Short).

Pam Furniss says: “These activities sit within the context of the aims and outcomes for the module as a whole. They are designed to contribute to the following learning outcomes: discuss the many ways in which humans make use of water and how these uses may compete with each other; understand the need for sustainable use of water and some of the ways this can be achieved; appreciate the complexities of natural resource management and the need to consider all stakeholders; recognise the value of a systems approach and the need to consider boundaries, system components and interactions.

The video elements, supported with text, still images, maps, diagrams and other resources, are integrated into multimedia activities in order to maximise the teaching value. Video, as opposed to text or audio, was essential to capture the experiences of people living in Ethiopia and to enable students to understand the significance of water in their daily lives. For example, being able to see and listen to Yeshiemebet (in 'Water at home') as she described how she fetches water from the spring six or seven times a day, provides students with a genuine insight into her life that could not be achieved by other means. Similarly, hearing the farmers (in 'Ethiopian river story') saying they would rather die fighting for their right to water than die of starvation is a powerful message that brings home the dominance of water in their lives.

The inclusion of questions and tasks requires more active engagement with the video content than could be achieved by simple, passive viewing. This active viewing, coupled with searching through other resources in order to answer the questions, is an essential part of the learning experience and introduces students to a resource-based learning approach. Furthermore, the inclusion of answers to the questions enables students to compare their own responses with those provided and check their understanding which is an essential part of distance learning material. This richness of teaching material is made possible by the multimedia approach.”

Pam Furniss

Pam Furniss

About Pam Furniss

Pam Furniss is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Systems at the Open University in the UK. Her main academic interests are water resources and sanitation, natural resource management and freshwater quality. She has contributed to many OU undergraduate and postgraduate modules as author and in her role as Award Director for the Environmental Decision Making Postgraduate Programme. Pam has recently joined the team of the OU’s Health Education and Training in Africa programme.

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