IFSTAL: Blended learning about food security

IFSTAL LogoFood security – universal access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food – is one of the most pressing contemporary global issues. It’s what’s often called a ‘wicked’ problem and requires the collaboration of experts from many disciplines to tackle it.

IFSTAL (Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning) is an exciting new initiative, led by Dr John Ingram of the Environmental Change Institute in Oxford, which aims to help address the urgent need for a workforce more skilled in food systems thinking. It’s a collaboration between Oxford and four other institutions* and aims to create an interactive community of postgraduate students and researchers. IFSTAL comprises a series of live lectures and networking, with resources and interaction hosted on a VLE. The lectures are held in one of the participating institutions and live-streamed to the others. Resources available on the VLE will include lecture clips, quizzes, interviews and blogs. They are centrally hosted on an implementation of the Moodle VLE at one of the collaborating universities and students sign in through their ‘home’ VLE using their normal institutional credentials (i.e. in Oxford, they log into WebLearn using their single sign-on).

Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Although most of the interaction will be online, there will be a summer school and the possibility of post-graduation internships with interested employers. There are also plans for field trips and workshops.

IFSTAL isn’t an award-bearing course; rather, it’s designed to run alongside Master’s courses that relate in any way to food systems. Students can engage as much, or as little, as they like – but of course, the more they put in, the more they’ll gain from it. Each institution has its own educational co-ordinator: in Oxford, Dr Rebecca White, based in ECI’s Food Group.

The Academic IT group is very pleased to have had a modest part in IFSTAL’s early stages. Dr Ingram first shared his ideas with us while the funding proposal was still being developed, and the WebLearn team set up the link from WebLearn to the IFSTAL Moodle.

Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

IFSTAL is available free to postgraduate students at any of the participating institutions. To read more, visit the IFSTAL website.

* City University, London; the University of Warwick, the University of Reading, and the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) (a collaboration between the Royal Veterinary College, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the School of Oriental and African Studies). IFSTAL is funded under HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund, and co-funded by collaborating institutions.

Parts of the text of this article have been taken from the introductory leaflet distributed at the launch of IFSTAL on 22nd October, attended by Liz Masterman from the Academic IT group. We thank Dr John Ingram and Dr Rebecca White for additional information.

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