Session: Network Connections: Deepening and Expanding Access to Virtual Field Experiences
Start local, go global: Students build observation skills and link evidence to concepts using the Ecosystem Exploration Series
Thursday, August 5, 2021
Link To Share This Presentation: https://cdmcd.co/83bDEK
Patricia A. Saunders, Department of Biology & Environmental Science Program, Ashland University, Ashland, OH, Emily Boone, Department of Biology, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, Flora Krivak-Tetley, Department of Biological Sciences & Environmental Studies Program, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, Gillian Schultz, Foothill College, Los Altos Hills, CA, Bonita Waters-Flournoy, Ed.D., Georgia Military College-Fayetteville, Fayetteville, GA; Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, MN and Kari O'Connell, STEM Research Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Patricia A. Saunders
Department of Biology & Environmental Science Program, Ashland University Ashland, OH, USA
Background/Question/Methods • Field stations and other natural areas have long been a resource for students to engage with core concepts, build observation skills and practice critical thinking about the natural world. Direct observation of complex and dynamic environments is key to helping students connect concepts with real-world applications and examples. As the 2020 pandemic changed access to field sites, instructors scrambled for new ways to encourage students to explore natural ecosystems, interpret their observations using abstract scientific concepts, compare features across diverse ecosystems, and apply such concepts to real-world problems such as habitat loss or species conservation. • Ecosystem Exploration videos and/or Live From the Field events (https://thevirtualfield.org/) were used by diverse STEM courses at primarily undergraduate institutions. Examples of learning goals included: use observation skills to find and compile evidence from a natural habitat, use evidence to evaluate the context for each ecosystem (e.g. climate variables, habitat gradients), use ecosystems to test predictions (e.g. the effects of chemical gradients on species), make predictions about how habitats might respond to perturbations (e.g. climate change), and compare research approaches of different scientists with diverse disciplinary perspectives. • Assignments that used Ecosystem Exploration videos or Live from the Field events were scaffolded in a variety of ways. These included communication of learning goals, introduction of core concepts, introduction to species that could be observed, and use of timing prompts in the videos. Students were asked to log and submit their observations and reflections for specific assignment questions.
Results/Conclusions • Across classes, instructors and students were largely positive about the value of these teaching tools, but noted some limitations of their initial scaffolding approach or the resources themselves. In some cases, closer detail, a landscape view, or a longer video would have been helpful for specific learning objectives. • While we will enthusiastically welcome a return to specific field sites for many of our classes, we also believe that these resources have long-term value for education and training: they can be used to (i) expand student observations and reflections to ecosystems and research questions in different biomes, countries, and seasons; (ii) provide opportunities for learning in courses that do not typically have a field component, and (iii) increase access to sites that are otherwise not accessible due to budget, mobility, distance, or specialized training requirements.