I’m not a planner

“I’m not a planner.”

I must have said it two dozen times last year in the summer semester. The summer semester of 2020 was my first teaching semester in Germany – I arrived more or less midway through the winter semester of 2019/2020, so I had time to finish some old stuff, return to The Netherlands to defend my PhD, and prepare for the teaching for the semester.

My first – and only – teaching task was to coordinate the ecological part of a course on landscape planning. This was a highly intensive course with many hours of lecturing, and a planning project. There were 19 student groups that all got intensive consultation sessions with me, as well as with my colleagues from the landscape planning department, in which we guided the groups through the different stages of planning and ecological aspects of planning – by choosing a focal species and analyzing their life cycles in order to see which critical elements should be provided and how this could be achieved. I believe this is a very important course, especially because traditionally planning and ecology are very separated fields, and there is so much to gain in terms of natural environment in landscape and urban planning, in times were lots of biodiversity is lost and losing against humanity.

My boss already told me about this course when I applied for my position. His description then was: “It’s a course where landscape planning students get some ecology. They have little background in biology or ecology. You can maybe talk about bumblebees or so.” To be honest, I did not get much more introduction than that after I got the job, but based on some of the lectures of a former colleague who taught the course before me, I started creating my lectures. I have never been worried about the lectures. I think my knowledge of ecology is rather sound. What I was really worried about was that I had no clue about landscape planning. How could I teach students about planning in a country that I did not know, or where I was unfamiliar with the area itself. Did I mention that the language of the course was German? I had just arrived in the country, my German was still rudimentary (but all professors agreed that I speak German, so that’s how we’d communicate). I refused giving lectures in German, but all consultation sessions, reports, grading etc. were all in German.

God, that was a scary semester.

As of course is always the case in hindsight, everything went fine. Because the pandemic had led to everything being taught online, it was really a lot of probing and fishing as we went, to see what worked best with the students. We offered way too much material, way too many consultations, way too many lectures. It was too much of everything. Everyone, students and teachers, were completely toasted at the end. But the evaluations were very positive, other than that the workload was higher than expected (I also think that workload is always higher than expected). There were some very interesting projects, for instance creating habitats for mining bees. One particularly good one created green corridors through the city of Freising in order to support the smallest carnivorous mammal, Mustela nivalis. Even though it was scary, tough and too much, it was also really enjoyable to see what kind of creative ecological planning projects students could come up with.

Monday, the summer semester starts again. Again, I will be coordinating the ecological aspects of this landscape planning course. The team have learned a lot from the feedback from last year, and we now created a ‘light’ version of last year’s planning project. We have decided on one project area (not free choice between multiple), and a selection of focal species (not feel free to pick whatever you like) that the students can choose from for their projects. One of the overwhelming aspects of last year was the abundance of choices. Some groups took six weeks to choose a species to work with, and literally switched to something else every week. This year’s restricted layout should help the students to jumpstart their projects and immediately work on their planning. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the students will deal with the challenges we have created for them!

I’m not a planner, but at least I’m more experienced this year. I’confident that this will be a fun semester!

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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