Session: Network Connections: Deepening and Expanding Access to Virtual Field Experiences
The Virtual Field: How a pandemic expanded access to the field
Thursday, August 5, 2021
Link To Share This Presentation: https://cdmcd.co/PJ93EW
Claudia Luke, Center For Environmental Inquiry, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA, Hilary Swain, Archbold Biological Station, Venus, FL, Sarah Oktay, Natural Reserve System, UC Davis, Davis, CA and Itchung S Cheung, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University, Newport, OR
Background/Question/Methods Field experiences are an irreplaceable part of field science degrees. They teach students to identify, observe, question and design experiments. When the Covid pandemic halted field teaching across the globe, the need was urgent. A coalition of over 50 field stations and marine laboratories (FSMLs) in 26 states and six countries – called The Virtual Field coalition - began exploring ways to bring aspects of missing field experiences into classrooms using virtual technologies. What was previously viewed as a pale ineffectual substitute for the real thing, had become a priority for supporting education in the field sciences. The Virtual Field coalition, with funding from an NSF RAPID grant, rapidly developed a series of teaching resources to bring field experiences to university students. Within 2 months they had created a digital platform for FSMLs to share resources with faculty and students nationally, and had created video series to teach observation, communication and research skills. Emerging from these efforts was a new awareness of the potential for virtual learning experiences to remove geographic, physical or socioeconomic barriers to field learning at FSMLs, especially for underrepresented groups. Results/Conclusions The Virtual Field website functions as a platform for sharing virtual field experiences at FSMLs. The website allows FSMLs and others to upload digital resources that automatically populate searchable web databases. Resources include a virtual events calendar and “Discover More” section for faculty to explore available digital materials. Two educational series focus on providing students with cross-site comparisons. The Ecosystem Exploration series teaches students observational and communication skills as they explore terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems at FMLS. Live from the Field series introduces students to field researchers working at sites around the world. The website and available resources are advertised through FSML members of the Organization of Biological Field Stations and other field site networks. During the Fall 2020 semester, over 700 faculty and students from 93 universities registered for events. The site receives approximately 2,000 views per month and use continues to increase. The Virtual Field has the potential to create field-trip like experiences for large classes, prevent student exclusion based on financial considerations, enhance preparedness for field trips, and broaden “first-hand” experiences in environments around the world. The coalition is currently writing proposals to foundations, NSF and others to revise materials, add new educational series, and focus on engaging students underrepresented in the field sciences.