Background/Question/Methods • Black Rock Forest (BRF), a 4,000-acre biological field station located in New York’s Hudson Highlands, has been the site for field-based research, education, and conservation programming for K-16 students, teachers, and the public since 1989. • For the last 30 years, BRF has instituted technology that provides researchers and educators access to long-term environmental data. In 2009, the Forest partnered with the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) to create The Virtual Forest Initiative, an online platform that hosts a suite of interactive online modules that explores ecological concepts (ie. paleoecology, plant ecophysiology, water chemistry, and forest sampling methods) for undergraduates and grades 8-12. • Although these tools have been used by educators, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to implement new virtual experiences for BRF’s audiences, allowing students to explore the natural world in engaging ways. • Using 360-degree video technology, outdoor cameras, and a newly installed WiFi Mesh Network, BRF created a suite of immersive virtual experiences. Through partnership with the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), BRF created Ecosystem Exploration (EE) videos and participated in a Live from the Field (LFTF) event to support educators during a time when in-person visits to the Forest was not possible.
Results/Conclusions • The recent installation of a WiFi Mesh Network enabled researchers to install WiFi-enabled data sensors for long-term environmental data livestreaming. The Wifi Mesh Network also provided an opportunity for educators to develop creative and interdisciplinary curriculum that combines environmental science and sustainability studies with internet technology and infrastructure practices. • Scientific and humanitarian virtual exploration of the Forest was made available with videos that showed various field methods most often used for environmental research. In addition, 360-degree video hikes created immersive experiences, livestreamed outdoor CritterCams visually captured small mammals visiting decorated boxes, and phenology cams showed seasonal changes of the forest canopy. • Collaborative efforts with the OBFS on The Virtual Field (thevirtualfield.org) led to BRF’s creation of EE videos, one of which showcases a Chestnut Oak forest and its unique ecological features with teaching materials that are based upon the Ecological Society of America’s 4DEE Framework. In addition, a BRF participated in a LFTF event discussing deer herbivory research and environmental careers. • Development of cross-institutional curriculum using new technologies continues to be pursued to broaden access to Black Rock Forest’s environmental resources, researcher knowledge base, and wealth of information about Northeastern temperate forests.