Professor of Ecology University of Notre Dame, United States
Ecological forecasting has become important for predicting the future state of ecosystems and their services and offers a promising approach for introducing a diverse group of researchers to quantitative methods in ecology. A competent forecasting workforce requires equitable quantitative training in ecology, which is still in development at the undergraduate level. Understanding where the current curriculum landscape allows for targeted interventions to improve educational opportunities. We compiled existing resources for teaching and learning ecological forecasting at three curriculum levels ranging from open-access, online resources to university courses on ecological forecasting, to characterize the existing curriculum. We combined this analysis with direct conversations with ecological forecasting educators, practitioners, and students to gain a more holistic perspective into the current curriculum gaps. Using this curriculum analysis approach, we sought to answer the following questions: “What ecological forecasting topics are being taught to undergraduate students, and what is not being taught that is important for preparing students for research careers?” and “Who has access, and who does not have access, to the online resources and courses related to ecological forecasting?” Providing insight into these questions offers the opportunity to concentrate curriculum development efforts in areas that presently lack resources.
We find persistent gaps (1) in what topics are taught to undergraduate students at each of the curriculum levels and (2) in the accessibility of resources at all curriculum levels. For example, resources discussing ethical implications of producing forecasts are nearly or completely absent at every curriculum level. Additionally, courses on forecasting are virtually absent, and higher education institutions in general are sparse, across large geographic areas of the USA, spanning from the Southwest through the Mountain West. Finally, forecasting courses are concentrated at institutions with high research activity, while courses related to forecasting are available at a greater variety of institution types, ranging from two-year community colleges to doctorate-granting institutions. Using the insights gained from our analysis of available resources and conversations with practitioners, we developed and implemented programs to reduce the identified gaps. For example, we have developed multiple partnerships between ecological forecasters and educators at tribal colleges to reduce the gap in accessibility of forecasting education in the Southwest and in tribal communities.