A new Forestry School course is harnessing the power of the Internet to share ideas about economic development with students around the world.
The United Nations Development Program and the Forestry School have joined forces this semester in a high-tech course that collects, analyzes and shares methods for using public-private partnerships to improve the delivery of water, waste and energy services in developing countries. Most of the work has been funded by the U.N. development program as part of its effort to implement public-private partnerships in its client countries.
Modern technology has made possible this one-semester, 13-session course that encompasses 15-21 institutions around the world, located in nations that receive funding from the United Nations Development Program. These institutions are located in countries such as Costa Rica, China, India, the Philippines, Ukraine and Nepal, to name a few.
Bradford Gentry, who co-teaches the course at Yale with John Gordon, said he believes a number of universities in Africa have also joined but has not yet determined the exact figure because of problems with e-mail communications.
“Internet activity here, because of the downloading issues, have not been so much to transmit all the materials over the Internet but to make use of e-mails to communicate more directly,” Gentry said.
The Yale class sessions are not recorded, but each week a student posts a summary of the class’ session to the Web page. Gentry sends his lecture notes and charts to the instructors of the classes at the participating schools. Each of the institutions has access to the reading materials, and teachers and students at the participating schools communicate over listservs.
The course was designed not to have a strict hierarchy of schools, Gentry said.
“The theory here is not to have a pyramid where Yale’s at the top and everybody else is salaaming,” Gentry said. “Rather, we are giving other institutions a way to think about these issues. They can use our materials or they can plug in examples of partnerships that fit their local circumstances better.”
Gentry said he wanted his students to have a breadth across countries, regions and disciplines. Kim Thurlow FOR ’02 is one of 13 students taking the class who were chosen for their cultural and educational diversity from an applicant pool twice as large.
“It’s been interesting to get other students’ perspectives from other countries,” Thurlow said. “You’re getting different cultural perspectives as well as different technical perspectives.”
Students in the class come from or are familiar with India, Chile, Ukraine, Britain, Ghana, China, Germany, Trinidad, Somalia and Ethiopia. Their diversity enables them to communicate effectively with students in participating countries throughout the world, both Thurlow and Gentry said.
“The class that’s here is quite intentionally multinational,” Gentry said. “We need to make sure that the class is useful to the UNDP, so I’ve got a mix of students who have a lot of relevant experience and students who have none.”
Although English is the working language of the UNDP, the class at Yale is acutely aware of the translation issues, and is trying to find ways to overcome the language barrier.
“What we’re doing sort of parallels the difficulties the UNDP has with 140 offices around the world,” Gentry said.
Yale offered the course two years ago in order to test the course materials. Participating institutions in the trial run included the University of the Western Cape in South Africa and the Center for Environmentally Sustainable Technology Transfer in China.
Encouraged by the trial, the UNDP got some new money, Yale made some adjustments to the course, and in January of this year the current program started at Yale.
“This course is very much a work in progress,” Gentry said.