From Buenos Aires to Lima: The U tests out adventure learning
Freshman Evelyn Reilly is jumping into her first semester at the University of Minnesota in a unique way: She will bike from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Lima, Peru, crossing the Andes Mountains twice and camping in local communities or remote, unpopulated areas along the way.
She’s taking “Food & Agriculture from Buenos Aires to Lima at 10 mph” with three other students and one professor from the University.
Everyday, professor Paul Porter and the students will blog about the food and agriculture they find on the South American landscape. This will include crop growing, food they find in local markets, what local citizens eat and how all facets of education can correspond to the experience.
The class will also include history, culture, politics and other topics along the way as they relate to food and agriculture.
Students in Minneapolis can follow along through a classroom portion of the journey, worth three credits.
In 2008, Porter, a professor of agronomy and plant genetics, saw an article in the Star Tribune about a professor at St. John’s University who was on sabbatical and planning to take a bike tour through Africa. Porter said he was fascinated by the idea and pitched it to his colleagues at the University as an idea for a class. The idea worked its way up the ladder, gaining support, until finally it was approved.
After a couple years of organization, Porter was ready in Africa to begin his first semester of “Adventure Learning,” the tag given to this type of class at the University. Porter planned to teach his class from abroad for the semester; however, in the middle of the trip he broke his arm and made an early flight back to the U.S.
Now, Porter is ready for a second attempt, but with some students in tow.
Back in Minnesota, students will follow the experience on the class’ own social network, EatBikeGrow.com, designed by course assistant Bryan Runck. He also developed a K-12 curriculum to get neighboring school districts interested in following the group’s adventure.
“This class will be something different. I have never heard of a class run this way,” said Lynn Migdal, a student taking the in-class portion of the course.
This is the first semester the University is offering this class in this format.
The course is offered through the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences as well as to global studies students in the College of Liberal Arts.
Porter and Runck explained that the curriculum beyond the classroom will be decided as the group makes discoveries on its trip. There is a list of assignments and speakers, but they can only make an educated estimate as to what will be encountered in the landscape.
The students traveling have arranged to take full course loads through independent study and courses with Porter. Many of them will be interacting with the communities to better learn Spanish.
Mary Brakke, who will co-teach the class and run the classroom portion while Porter is in South America, said the class is an experiment.
“That doesn’t mean we have not thought a lot about what to put into the course,” she said. “We are trying to transform the way that we teach. Our interactions will be a huge component of shaping this class.”
The course will be evaluated throughout the semester as well as at the end of the semester. Brakke said she will be watching student responses throughout the course, but it will be very difficult to test the success of the course.
She said she thinks students will get out of the class what they put into it. Porter, Runck and Brakke said the most important aspect of the class will be collaboration between students and instructors. They will learn from one another and cover a very broad spectrum of interests.
Porter and Brakke said the time, money and effort needed to produce a course of this nature is too extreme to include in each semester but could potentially start similar courses during the summer session.
The bike tour begins Sept. 25 and lasts 80 days, about 65 of which are riding days. The group will travel 6,550 kilometers, or 4,070 miles, in total. Porter and the students will return to the classroom Dec. 21.
The tour, organized by Tour D’Afrique, cost each rider approximately $8,000, not including tuition and gear. There are about 20 other riders on the tour with them, mostly older people traveling for leisure. Porter and the students have been training for the trip over the summer.
Wesley Brunson, a senior studying science, technology, culture and sustainability, said the class “sounded like an awesome adventure.” To prepare for the trip, Brunson said he has been trying to do a few 100-kilometer, or 60-mile, rides.
“I’m so scared to fall off a cliff!” Reilly said before describing the narrow mountaintop paths beside high jagged cliffs.
After learning a bit more about the terrain, Grace Ramsey, a senior and political science major also biking, joined in the hesitation. “I wasn’t worried, but now I am!”