We recently launched our Digital Education Programme Wild About Welfare. This innovative resource was more than two years in the making and spearheading the team managing its development was Sarah Blake, our animal welfare field manager, so who better to share with us some of the details of how the programme was developed. Telling us everything from how the online programme was first created to the partners that helped us along the way, Sarah shares all in our latest blog.
I was introduced to the concept of the Wild About Welfare digital education programme, or e-learning project as we called it within the team, one rainy afternoon just a week after I joined Wild Welfare. After being told about this unique idea and familiarising myself with what had already been produced, I became hugely invested in the project for two reasons; firstly because I would be able to utilise my own knowledge and skills while being creative, and secondly because I could see the huge potential the programme had to have a positive impact on animals and the people that care for them.
To truly be able to create tangible and long-term changes within captive animal facilities, we have to target our support at those who work in direct contact with the animals themselves.
Meeting and training animal care staff during project visits is a vital part of what Wild Welfare does, but this programme would enable us to reach more facilities than ever before. The opportunity to upskill animal care staff can really impact animal welfare, by giving carers the knowledge and understanding they need on topics such as nutrition, health, enrichment and behaviour.
As I got stuck into the project, I remembered vital aspects of my daily routine from when I was working with captive wildlife and added some of these elements into the programme. Tasks such as completing a visual health check including assessments of beaks, claws, scales, behaviour and even faecal matter of each animal, were essential components to add in to the already detailed programme.
When I came on board with the programme Wild Welfare’s then executive director Georgina Groves, had already composed the animal welfare information and module layout – I think if I had been faced with blank sheets of paper to fill with all I knew about animal husbandry and welfare, I wouldn’t have known where to begin. My task was to refine each of the eight learning modules, make changes where needed and then liaise with Dr Heather Bacon from The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education (JMICAWE), who was partnering with us on the project, to make further additions. The additions proved numerous, as the total number of pages grew from 115 to 155!
The other aspect to the programme was to develop the interactive quiz-type activities which compliment the learning documents for each module, helping to consolidate learning. Having (virtually) met with the e-learning specialist Dr Louise Connelly from JMICAWE, I got to work on creating questions which would test the learner while Louise started creating the activities involved for each module. We included multiple choice questions, picture matching activities and even the inclusion of video.
The most difficult aspect for me was thinking up the incorrect answers to some of the questions and I had to get creative, for example suggesting that selfie opportunities are a reason for undertaking enrichment activities (they aren’t).
After we had some working prototypes and the world had gone into lockdown, I reached out to more than 40 contacts from various animal care, zoo and conservation backgrounds across the world, to act as a virtual trial group to work through the programme for us. They picked a module or two to complete, filled out an anonymous survey and gave us additional feedback. It was a wonderful feeling to finally share this project with people and get opinions on it. We received a lot of very positive feedback and some really useful comments, which in turn helped us further shape the programme into its final version.
Once everything had been checked for accuracy by Dr Heather Bacon, and proof-read by an army of volunteers, we were approaching the launch date and my anticipation mounted. I had been working on the programme for nearly two years and it had involved so much effort and collaboration to make it the best it could be, so I couldn’t wait to finally share it.
So last week after much extensive planning, creating, refining and finalising, we hit the big green button and the programme was finally live.
On sharing the news, our social media channels have exploded with people sharing the programme, recommending it to friends and colleagues and expressing their interest and excitement at getting stuck in to learning. As a team we are thrilled with the response, but now the programme is launched in English, I have turned my attention to the next step – translations.
Wild Welfare works in more than 10 countries around the world so to reflect our international impact, the programme was always destined to be translated into multiple languages, particularly those spoken in our project countries. We hope Japanese will be the first translation and when it is, we look forward to being able to share it with our partners in Japan.
I was reminded of a quote from Nelson Mandela while working on this programme – “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Helping to create the Wild About Welfare programme has been full of challenges, but I am so pleased that as a team we managed to conquer them all and produce something that can empower animal care staff now and in the future.
Huge thanks go to Dr Lousie Connelly, Dr Heather Bacon, OBE and all the team involved from The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education (JMICAWE) and the University of Edinburgh and to The Silent Foundation for helping fund the programme’s development.
The Wild About Welfare programme can be accessed on our resources pages HERE.