Limitations of eight-week program:
Certain activities must be shortened and/or speeded up, especially pond observations, management plans, and pond management. Trainees may not get as much out of these activities and feel more rushed, nervous and stressed due to the time constraints. Trainees have less time to spend at their ponds, and also have a shorter growing period for their fish, so the value of the pond work, one of the most essential components of the program, is diminished. This cuts out some learning as well as prevents trainees from seeing their fish grow significantly, an important factor in establishing their own confidence in and enthusiasm for aquaculture. It is more difficult to provide adequate feedback to the trainees. With a tighter schedule, there are fewer interviews and less opportunity for trainees to work on problem areas. The assessment component becomes more complicated and less effective. The shorter schedule also means elimination of some training exercises. In stateside training, it has been necessary to eliminate the group pond construction project which is an extremely critical aspect of the program and of the job as a fisheries volunteer.
In an eight-week program, the learning process itself, especially problem-solving type activities, are cut short, thus skill development in these areas may be decreased. A higher degree of frustration and stress on trainees and staff significantly affects quality and quantity of work, attitudes, personal relationships, and physical health. Due to shorter training, less time with ponds and no actual pond construction, trainees do not have as high a degree of self-confidence in their skills upon completion of the program.
Adjustments for eight-week program:
This training manual provides a training design and schedules for a ten-week program which, for technical reasons, had been the length of the stateside fish culture training programs for many years. Many Peace Corps Staff as well as current and returned Volunteers feel that ten-weeks are necessary if trainees are to attain the necessary level of technical competence and self-confidence. Due to budgetary constraints, however, the last two cycles of 1989 were reduced to eight weeks. If future programs are to be continued using the eight-week schedule, it is hoped that the comments and suggestions, which are based on experience gained in 1989, that follow will be of help in modifying the ten-week program described in this manual to fit an eight-week schedule:
• Orientation, Expectations, Rules, Norms: In general, these are all the same as in the tenweek program;
• Individual Focusing: Essentially the same as ten-week program;
• Pond Observations and Processing: The exercise is the same as the ten-week program, except that trainees are moved through it more quickly. The level of detail expected remains the same, but trainees may not achieve that level of detail in quite as many areas. Going through this exercise more quickly actually turned out to have a positive impact on the general attitude of the trainees, and some modifications had already been made to shorten it while the program was ten weeks long. In this case, having to make this adjustment resulted in an improvement rather than a loss. There was no appreciable negative impact on the value of the exercise, and trainees seemed to view in a somewhat more positive light. This may be due in part to the fact that the processing of the Pond Observation exercise was handled differently as well. Rather than wait until the entire group completed their observations (which, in earlier ten-week programs could be as late as the middle of the following week), the Master Trainer did the processing with small groups, (as many as three or four separate sessions per day), as trainees completed the exercise. Having the opportunity to process the exercise while it was still very fresh may well have contributed to the effectiveness of the processing and to the trainees' ability to see the value of the exercise itself;
• Management Plans: Although the basic process and the concepts covered remained the same, this is one area where a major sacrifice is made in an eight-week program. It is true that in either program, the earlier the ponds are stocked the better, and that is why shortening the Pond Observation exercise and getting the ponds stocked sooner is recommended even if the program returns to the ten-week schedule. However, the pressure to get the ponds stocked and to get through the management plans more quickly in order to move on to surveying the following weeks seriously detracts from the excellent skill development opportunities that have always been one of the most important aspects of the management plans. The process of developing the plans as well as the technical concepts covered make the development of management plans one of the most valuable components of the program. For many trainees, this component provides a first experience with an entirely new way of learning and many new problem- solving techniques. In addition, trainees learn an enormous amount in terms of the most basic and important technical concepts in fish culture. By having to rush through the plans, trainees experience more frustration, suffer from diminished self-confidence, and have to cut short their problemsolving and analytical processes. There is little the staff can do about this other than spend as much quality time with the trainees as possible. Beyond that, it simply becomes that much more important to keep close tabs on how the trainees incorporate new information into their management plans as they acquire it and how they update and re-evaluate their plans over the course of training;
• Pond Management: This is another area where a major sacrifice is made in cutting the program back to eight weeks. Trainees must be able to work with their fish long enough to see the results of their management decisions, and the more time they have their fish in the ponds the more they will learn. As stated above, the earlier the ponds are stocked the better, even in a ten-week program, but in the eight-week program it is even more imperative that the ponds get stocked by early in the second week. Since surveying must be pushed up to the second week, trainees do not have an opportunity to spend most of the week immediately following stocking on pond management. They are almost immediately limited to the three daily scheduled pond times as other work takes up their time and energy. Again, there is not much that can be done, but staff should make every effort to do more pond interviews - on a weekly basis, if possible. They should be extremely stringent about respecting pond time, and should spend a lot of time with the trainees at their ponds during every pond time to ensure that trainees get as much benefit as possible out of their pond work;
• Weekly and Final Reports: These remain essentially the same except that staff is encouraged to put more emphasis on content rather than presentation (in earlier programs, staff members tended to be a little more stringent about presentation than we were in the eight-week cycles). Although high standards of professionalism continue to be upheld, trainers try to provide clear enough guidelines and feedback to the trainees to keep the necessity of rewriting reports to a bare minimum, and staff comments tend to emphasize the technical aspects of the reports. Trainees see the value of writing the reports more clearly, and benefit more from the trainers' comments when greater attention is paid to the aspects of the report that reflect their comprehension and application of the material;
• Field Trips: The major field trips remain the same, but with the eight-week schedule there is less flexibility for individual trainees or small groups to spend time working with local farmers, researchers, etc.;
• Masonry and Wheelbarrow Projects: In the eight-week program it is more difficult to do the masonry and wheelbarrow projects during the first half of the program. If they can be squeezed in, it will allow more time during Week Seven to address pond construction, but it is likely that these projects will not be able to take place until Week Seven;
• Surveying: This component remains the same except that it is scheduled much earlier in the program. This does not affect the surveying component, but starting it earlier affects the amount of time and attention trainees can give to their management plans and pond work. In addition, since surveying is taught in a somewhat more conventional manner than are the other activities that take place early in the program, the benefits of the individual experiential learning style that helps trainees develop their problem-solving abilities, independence and self-reliance are reduced;
• Site Development and Pond Design: This component remains the same (except for the actual Pond Construction project, which will be addressed separately), except that it takes place earlier;
• Seminars: Seminars remain the same, except for the points made about the fish fry (see next point);
• Fish Fly: In the eight-week program, the trainees will probably only be able to do one real fish fry (this being in Week Seven). Instead of the first fish fry, the trainees assigned to the Harvest/Transport/Processing/Preservation/Preparation seminar can do an abbreviated version that addresses the processing, preservation and preparation of fish, but more in the form of demonstrations than as a social event that is a group effort. In this case, the trainees doing the seminar demonstrate the different methods of processing, demonstrate the construction and use of a smoker and salting box, and perhaps prepare fish using one method. The rest of the group can practice the processing and a wider variety of preparation methods at the Week Seven fish fry;
• Week-Long Field Trip: Remains the same. When the decision was made to cut back the program, eliminating or shortening the Field Trip was considered. However, especially with the stateside program, most field staff and training staff felt that the benefits of the Field Trip would be, in most cases, impossible to duplicate during in-country orientation (as opposed to Pond Construction, which could be done during the technical orientation phase of in-country training). Feedback from trainees who had completed the program further reinforced the idea that having the opportunity to get an overview of the aquaculture industry instilled in them a sense of the potential of fish culture and had a tremendous impact on their enthusiasm and commitment. Seeing the concepts and techniques they were learning about being applied in "real life" helped reinforce their understanding of those concepts and techniques, and greatly increased their self-confidence;
• Week Seven Sessions: Essentially, the sessions that are conducted during Week Nine of the ten-week program remain the same and are conducted during Week Seven. This includes the Field Trip Debriefing, the Site Selection exercise, the presentation of final report criteria, the sessions related to providing country specific information, sessions addressing volunteer issues, special technical sessions, fish marketing and a fish fry. The major differences are that the masonry and/or carpentry projects may take place during Week Seven of the eight-week program, and that the Pond Construction project may need to be eliminated or modified;
• Pond Construction: This is a critical area in which reducing the length of the program has a severe effect on the trainees. No amount of classroom work, models or observation can convince someone that they know how to design, stake out and build a pond. This is probably the most intimidating aspect of the job of a fisheries volunteer, and no amount of practice with site selection, pond design or construction is ever sufficient in terms of really instilling a sense of confidence in the trainees. The actual construction of a pond is an absolutely essential element of technical training for aquaculture Volunteers, so it was with tremendous reluctance that the pond construction project was eliminated when making adjustments for an eight-week program. Field staff were informed that it was critical that a pond construction project be included in the technical orientation phase of in-country training following the stateside program.
In the first eight-week cycle conducted in this program, the trainees who presented the Site Selection/Pond Construction seminar staked out a pond as if it were to be constructed, then led the trainees through the step-by-step construction process using a large dirt and clay model that was placed out at the actual pond site. Although this was a very good effort, the final evaluations submitted by the trainees overwhelmingly cited Pond Construction as the area in which they felt the least confident, and many expressed frustration that they had not been able to construct a pond in training.
In the second eight-week cycle, trainees were so adamant about wanting to get experience in pond construction that another approach was taken. In this program, the trainees who presented the Site Selection/Pond Construction seminar coordinated a group project in which trainees built new dikes in existing ponds (transforming two ponds into three ponds, in this case). This did provide an opportunity to get actual experience moving dirt, tamping dikes, putting in an anti-seep collar, etc. It did not, however, allow trainees to experience each step involved in constructing a pond from beginning to end. Trainees still felt uncomfortable with their level of competence in pond construction at the end of training.
Both of the approaches described here had some value. Another possibility would be to have trainees construct a much smaller pond than usual, but to do all of the steps. This might work well, but staff should be very careful when such a project is considered. The project must provide realistic, valuable experience and not simply be a gesture that lacks actual application. If a very small model is constructed, the experience may actually be misleading since working with topography and soil, principles of cut and fill, effects of surveying or staking errors, fluid dynamics, and labor are all aspects of pond construction that are much different on a real-life scale than they are on a very small scale;
• Assessment: This was another area where the shorter program posed some difficulties. There is less time to work with the trainees, so the staff cannot get to know them as well. With less time for collection of behavioral data, important trends or patterns may not be discerned. It becomes more difficult for both trainees and staff to determine the areas in which the trainees need further development, and there is less opportunity to implement strategies that are designed to help them improve in targeted areas. This is especially frustrating for trainees who enter training with non-biology backgrounds and require more time and work with the staff to develop their technical skills and confidence. In the case of problem trainees, it is more difficult to adhere to all of the steps of the required administrative procedures if an administrative separation becomes a possibility, and the trainee has less opportunity to make specified changes, improvements or progress. In addition, with the schedule even tighter than in the already crowded ten-week program, it is more difficult to make time for interviews. Staff and trainees are under so much pressure that interviews may be rushed, or trainees may be too distracted with all of their other work to put as much thought and attention into self-assessment and responding to feedback. The recommended interview schedule for the eight-week program is similar to that of the ten-week program, with interviews held Week One, Week Three, and Week Seven, plus the final interview. In addition, staff should meet with trainees very briefly after they complete their seminar presentations during Week Five to discuss the trainees" feelings about their seminar presentations, provide staff feedback on the seminars, and check-in with the trainees regarding their general attitude and any concerns they may want to express;
• Additional Comments:
• To summarize the above points, the reduction in the length of training has the biggest impact on actual training activities in the areas of Pond Observations, Management Plans, Pond Management and Pond Construction. In the case of the Pond Observations, this turned out to be a positive aspect of the change, and the changes made to the program in the first week would actually work better in the ten-week program as well, allowing the ponds to get stocked sooner and the trainees to see more value in the Pond Observation exercise. In the cases of Management Plans, Pond Management, and the Pond Construction project, the effects are negative. Most other activities remain the same, except that everything is more crowded and there may be less preparation time for some projects and assignments;
• Some of the most important effects of reducing the length of the program are more subtle. The ten-week program was already hectic, crowded and stressful. In the eight-week program, trainees are under tremendous pressure and time constraints. This not only affects the quality of the trainees' work and thought processes, but also reduces the potential for their skill] development as a direct result of time constraints. It also wears them down physically and emotionally, thus further aggravating the problems. Trainees often suffer from a lack of sleep and have difficulty concentrating. Their efforts must divided among so many tasks that they become extremely frustrated that they cannot do any of them as well as they know they should and could. The results are then not what they would like, which diminishes their self-esteem and confidence;
• In light of what was mentioned in the last comment, it is imperative that staff be especially sensitive to the physical and emotional state of the trainees. Try to observe all individuals carefully and follow up on any extreme or sudden changes in behavior. Do not wait for scheduled interviews to check in with trainees who appear to be depressed or unusually distracted. Trainers should make a special point of noting trainees who seem to be up very late every night, or trainees who miss a lot of meals. Keep lines of communication open. It is important to try to have an occasional social event or light day, even though this will be extremely difficult. There may even be times when it is necessary to sacrifice some important training activity in order to address other needs of the trainees. None of this is meant to be over-stated, and trainees should not be coddled in the eight-week program any more than they should be in the ten-week program, but the issues raised in the last comment are very real ones and should not be taken lightly;
• Just as trainees are under tremendous pressure and work loads, so are the staff members. Staff members should watch out for one another and put a lot of effort into keeping themselves physically, mentally and emotionally stable so that they can provide the necessary support to the trainees;
• Reducing the program to eight weeks is not a good decision in the opinion of this staff. However, if that is to be the case, every effort should be made to make whatever adjustments are necessary to have the best program possible. This begins with the attitude of the training staff. Regardless of their personal feelings, they must accept the situation and avoid projecting a negative attitude. Trainers should never imply to the trainees that they are at a disadvantage or that they will not be able to have a quality training because of the shortened program. This would not only be unprofessional -it would be unfair and harmful to the trainees. With a positive, upbeat atmosphere and dynamic, enthusiastic leadership, trainees can accomplish a tremendous amount under even the most difficult circumstances. With good planning, tight organization, creativity, and a competent staff that works well as a team, the eight- week program can be effective. If the program is stateside or regional, it is essential that the key gaps described above be addressed during an in-country orientation.
Weekly Program Summary:
Week One - Orientation, Pond System Observations and Introduction to Pond Management:
• The trainees and staff get acquainted and trainees become familiar with the local area, living quarters and basic logistics of training. Information is provided on the training program, logistics, rules and Peace Corps policies. Administrative forms are completed. Trainees' expectations of training are discussed. The training program objectives, design and methodology are related to volunteer effectiveness;
• Short interviews take place to allow staff to meet each trainee on an individual basis and to give the trainees opportunities to express concerns, hopes or interests, and ask specific questions;
• Trainees sharpen their observation skills, become familiar with the training site, and begin to adjust to an individual style of learning through a detailed and thorough study of the pond system and surrounding area. They begin to learn and develop specific questions about aquaculture based on their observations;
• Each trainee is assigned a pond to manage throughout the training period. Trainees spend the week defining goals, writing work plans, and working in their ponds. Through the development of detailed, comprehensive Management Plans, basic technical and biological concepts of pond culture are explored, and trainees are encouraged to formulate additional questions related to their work. They begin to think of themselves as fish farmers, to view aquaculture as a form of agriculture, and to recognize the importance of economics and profitability. Brainstorming and goal setting are introduced as problem solving techniques;
• Through pond preparation and stocking, trainees begin doing the physical tasks involved in aquaculture, working with various tools and equipment, using the pumps and associated plumbing, and handling fish. In order to obtain equipment, trainees are required to follow a requisition system that is explained to them by a staff member.
Week Two - Advanced Pond Management and Introduction to Surveying:
• Trainees finish stocking their ponds and develop the main sections of their management plans. By mid-week, they are carrying out a variety of daily activities at their ponds, learning about fish and fish culture through experience. This will continue throughout the program as they continue to manage their ponds. Through stocking their ponds, some trainees have had their first experience physically working with fish, and a meeting is held in which they can share their experiences and develop some guidelines regarding the proper handling of fish. Responsibility for the maintenance of tools and feed sheds are turned over to the training group;
• A special meeting is held once all of the ponds are stocked to help trainees process what they have experienced thus far in training and to help them see training more clearly in the context of their role as Peace Corps Volunteers. They are encouraged to think about their training from the perspective of Peace Corps and the host country, and to consider the needs they will be expected to meet as volunteers. The trainees are encouraged to define their goals for the eightweek program. They are informed of the staff's expectations of them during the program as well;
• Trainees are instructed in the use and care of surveying equipment. They are required to complete a series of exercises which reinforce the techniques and introduce the basics of pond design. One of the surveying projects is conducted in small groups, then presented to the large group in a formal setting. In addition to obtaining specific new technical skills and applying them in a variety of ways, the exercises permit trainees to sharpen their leadership skills and to practice working effectively in groups. The presentations give them an opportunity to develop their public speaking styles, share and reinforce the technical material they have learned, and serve as an introduction to extension techniques. Critiques following each presentation provide opportunities for giving and receiving feedback, while becoming familiar with the rules and guidelines for proper feedback;
• At the end of the week, trainees are asked to evaluate the training program to date by means of a prepared form.
Week Three - Advanced Site Selection and Pond Design:
• Trainees spend a day with an expert in site selection, pond design and pond construction from the Soil Conservation Service. They receive both classroom and field instruction, then participate in several exercises. For the rest of the week they work in small groups on a site development exercise, laying out a viable pond and presenting it to the group. Extension techniques are emphasized as a part of these presentations;
• Through management of their ponds, trainees have developed enough specific, clear questions about fish and aquaculture to take advantage of opportunities presented by access to resource people and visits to other facilities. Field trips are scheduled and trainees get hands-on experience working with fish culturists at nearby facilities. Trainees are expected to apply the information they gain to their own ponds. Information gathering, professionalism and social awareness are stressed in their interactions with resource people and the community as a whole;
• Trainees are made aware of the requirements for weekly technical pond reports in which they are to document all activities that occur with their individual ponds, report data they collect, their interpretation of that data, and plans for the following week. Professional record keeping and report writing becomes an increasingly important theme as training progresses;
• Trainees are informed of their responsibilities for seminar presentations. For these presentations, the various aspects of fish culture and extension are organized into a series of seminar topics. Each trainee is assigned a topic to research and present to the group. If Marketing and Economics is not to be included among the seminar topics (this may depend on the size of the group, backgrounds of the trainees or available resources for researching the topic), a visitor may be scheduled one evening to present a session on this subject;
• Personal interviews are conducted with each trainee. In preparation for these interviews, trainees are asked to fill out a self-evaluation form. During the interview, the staff and the trainee compare notes on how each thinks the trainee is progressing in various aspects of training. If the staff or trainee feels it is appropriate, ideas are exchanged and suggestions are made on how improvements can be brought about in certain areas.
Week Four - Seminar Preparation and Wheelbarrow Construction:
• Trainees spend the majority of their time researching their seminar topics. They are given access to a variety of experts through personal or telephone interviews and, for the first time, to written resource materials. Individuals or pairs of trainees meet often with staff members to discuss their progress, and a practice run of each seminar is held with staff prior to the actual presentation;
• Three or four trainees serve as group leaders for a wheelbarrow construction project. Each leader works with a separate group of trainees, and each group designs and builds its own wheelbarrow. (Note: Wheelbarrow project is optional. See Chapter Thirteen, "Masonry and Carpentry Projects");
• On Friday and Saturday, the first two seminar presentations take place. The first presentation is on extension and administration. This presentation should include demonstrations of several extension techniques and should serve as a model for the remaining seminars. The Site Selection/Pond Construction Seminar is scheduled this week as well;
• Trainees complete another evaluation of the training program;
• If possible, participation in a local festival or social event is scheduled.
Week Five - Seminar Presentations:
• The week is devoted to presentations of the seminars. Trainees receive technical information, experience in public speaking, and exposure to a variety of extension techniques. Short critiques are facilitated by the trainees at the completion of each presentation which help trainees evaluate and improve their communication skills. As part of the seminar that includes fish processing and preparation, the trainees get their first opportunity to clean and prepare fish in a variety of ways.
Week Six - Field Trip:
• Trainees visit farmers, extensionists and researchers in the field of aquaculture. They see practical applications of the extension and technical issues they discussed in seminars and are exposed to various facets of the U.S. aquaculture industry. This overview gives the trainees a sense of the potential of aquaculture and provides them with a valuable perspective for their roles as volunteers working in the very early stages of development of this industry in their respective countries. Since the trip provides a break in the routine and tensions of training as well as a change of scenery, it gives the trainees a chance to get rejuvenated. The trainees' technical discussions with industry leaders serve as a tremendous confidence boost. They usually return from this trip with renewed energy and heightened motivation that help them during the last two weeks of the program.
Week Seven - Country Specifics, Masonry and Advanced Pond Design:
• Trainers, visiting field staff, and RPCV's provide country specific information through question/answer sessions, slide shows and discussions. These sessions include technical information, programming issues, and other material regarding life as a Peace Corps volunteer;
• If wheelbarrows have not been completed, they are finished this week. A masonry project is also implemented under direction of trainee coordinators. The trainees who presented the seminar on pond construction may lead a project to provide some practice in this skill area in lieu of the actual group pond construction project that takes place in the ten-week program. A trainer or trainee demonstrates the bending of PVC pipe;
• A final site selection/pond design exercise is done to reinforce the techniques learned on the field trip and in seminars. In this exercise as much emphasis is placed on extension methodology as on the technical aspects;
• As final harvests begin, trainees market some of their fish in the local community and prepare some of their fish for a fish fry, to which trainees are encouraged to invite guests;
• Trainee-facilitated meetings take place at the end of the week in which some of the most important technical concepts covered throughout training are tied together. Staff members meet frequently with trainee facilitators to provide guidance and feedback as they prepare their sessions;
• Personal interviews are held during the early part of the week.
Week Eight - Harvests and Final Reports:
• Trainees harvest their ponds. They write a final report in which they process and evaluate their individual pond management practices and experiences. Discussion of the final report is included as part of the final interview;
• A meeting is held in which the trainees are encouraged to give thought to the range of emotions they may experience upon arrival in their countries of assignment, and to the possible effects of, and strategies for coping with, culture shock;
• A final dinner is held to formally conclude training. Trainees receive certificates to document their successful completion of the program.
Weekly Schedule of Events: (see following pages)
WEEKLY SCHEDULE FOR EIGHT-WEEK PROGRAM
Full week is spent visiting various facilities representing an overview of the aquaculture industry in the southeastern United States. Facilities may include federal and state hatcheries and research stations, university research and extension stations, large and small commercial fish farms, fish processing plants, food mills, extension service offices, fish restaurants and markets, lending institutions and net-making factories.