Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice
Southteastern Louisiana University
Students in my upper level anthropology class work on a wildlife conservation project based in Tanzania from the (relative) comforts of our classroom here in Louisiana. They work and communicate with the staff of the international organization via email, Skype and social media. I wish I could take the students to the Serengeti for a whole other dimension of experiential learning, but when I consider the risks, real and potential— hippopotamuses, no wifi (!) ---- I’m content to stick to my campus class.
Identifying and effectively dealing with risks is important in applied anthropology classes or classes that include experiential learning components. So where to start? I’ve found asking these four questions help, especially when developing the syllabus: 1) What could go wrong? Try to identify potential risks students may encounter related to the experience. If, for example, my students were doing a project for a local organization at the organization’s office in New Orleans, I would need to think about transportation issues that may involve some risk—driving, parking, etc. 2) How likely is something to go wrong? It could be a rare occurrence or a near certainty; 3) What are the consequences if something does go wrong? The impact may range from insignificant to catastrophic; and 4) How can the risk be reduced? This is really about managing risk. The most common way is through sharing information: holding orientation and training sessions, having discussion with community partners, in essence lots of participant education. Another way is to transfer risk, that is, shift the responsibility of risk, especially financial, to a third party, most often by purchasing or requiring insurance, or to require the students to sign liability waivers. Many colleges and universities have Offices of Risk Management to assist with this.
Much of risk management is common sense. Giving some careful thought to the potential hazards in applied or experiential components of classes beforehand should result in a more positive learning experience.