The World Food System Summer School is an innovative two-week course that seeks to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes of the next generation of decision makers to build sustainable food systems. Meaningful learning, where the participant is able to relate new information to existing knowledge, is a critical part of education about complex systems and requires the integration of reflective approaches to teaching and learning. We adapted the rich picture method in three summer schools in Switzerland, South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire (74 participants with 29 nationalities) to support the reflection of participants on their knowledge gained on complex food systems. Coding and comparing 51 pairs of pre- and post-course pictures of food systems clearly demonstrated newly gained knowledge: The number of sub-categories drawn significantly increased from 11 to 19 in the post-course pictures, the largest increase occurred for environmental sustainability (57%). The rich picture method is a highly valuable and simple tool to gain insight into how participants’ knowledge changes and where there are gaps in meeting the learning objectives. This is particularly useful within a highly diverse participant cohort, as it allows participants to discuss and reflect on their own learning experience in a personalized way. Additionally, the rich picture method provides insights for faculty to improve their approaches to teaching on food systems.
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