Sense of place for many of today's students does not extend to remote landscapes, which may be perceived as intimidating.
Modelling for Field Biologists and other Interesting People
At the same time, loss of contact with the natural world may affect the capacity to engage with field settings. For example, extensive use of cell phone and computer screens has been shown to alter the human visual system Sewall Consequently, the shift to increasingly human-modified environments creates a negative feedback loop that serves to increase emotional and physical distance from nature and therefore to decrease interest in field-based educational experiences.
Many of our most pressing socioecological issues lie at the intersection between culture and nature, and cultural diversity is essential to sustainability. Field experiences are crucial for developing the next generation of environmental professionals, but at present, undergraduate participation in field studies is not reflective of human cultural diversity Baker , Arismendi and Penaluna Multiple factors contribute to the underrepresentation of multiple groups defined by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, and socioeconomic background Van Velsor and Nilon , Cotton and Cotton For first-generation students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, a focus on nature may be perceived as contrary to improved financial prospects, and the study of wild places and wild organisms may seem irrelevant to social-justice concerns.
Whereas suburban students brought up in the tradition of backyard explorations, weekend hikes, and summer family vacations to national parks may leap into a field course without concern, an urban student who has never spent a night outdoors may find a field experience daunting Cotton and Cotton A female student may be reluctant to live under field conditions in a group consisting primarily of males because of cultural norms or fear of harassment, especially from men perceived as higher in professional hierarchies Clancy et al.
Disabled students may be discouraged from field studies even if their disabilities can be accommodated Hall et al. Designing field courses that respect and accommodate student differences will be crucial to ensuring that such experiences are accessible to all, with the resulting diversity of perspectives enriching for all learners.
By definition, field studies occur outdoors. Not surprisingly, many field-based programs take place where undisturbed nature has to some degree been conserved. Furthermore, because contact with more sub urban landscapes often includes interactions with park rangers, land managers, and other conservation professionals, these experiences can be particularly valuable for revealing potential career opportunities. In summary, the benefits of interacting with nature can be realized in a wide range of accessible settings, a realization that can help make field study part of the pedagogy of all undergraduate programs.
Providing students with field experiences in more human-influenced habitats may require particular creativity. For example, for instructors at large, urban campuses, the classic weekend trip spent capturing mammals or reptiles can be replaced by observations of peregrine falcons foraging in urban canyons, surveys of pollinators in urban gardens, analyses of ants foraging in a local park, recordings of the dawn chorus of birds in a day-use area, or camera trapping of urbanized wildlife. These activities may not provide the deep immersion in nature that more extended or remote field experiences do, but they are often sufficient to pique the interest of students and awaken them to the processes of observation, interpretation, and exploration of nature McCleery et al.
Even among educators who embrace the importance of field studies, some may hesitate to provide these experiences if they do not feel capable of designing and leading such activities. Challenges include not just pedagogical techniques but also the necessary logistics and demands associated with managing student group dynamics in often-unpredictable physical settings. Teachers, like students, need role models and mentors. Checklists or instruction manuals that summarize the basic considerations associated with overseeing field experiences provide valuable support to faculty.
Furthermore, the use of established field stations and marine laboratories can be invaluable for alleviating logistical and academic concerns Billick et al. For instructors, field stations provide opportunities to tap into existing networks of supportive colleagues; for students, such locations provide exposure to a wide range of scientific studies conducted in natural settings.
Although relevant materials exist on how to lead field courses e. Tangible resources that experienced field instructors can provide include lesson plans, logistic suggestions, and, in particular, person-to-person mentoring of less experienced colleagues.
10 Great Biology Discoveries
Despite the sometimes-significant challenges outlined here, field courses continue to be offered and enthusiastically embraced by dedicated faculty and avid students. Faculty who lead such courses do so because they understand the profound benefits to student learning, to personal and professional development, and to the development of an ecologically literate society. There is no replacement for direct interaction with the living world.
Eschewing the field in favor of the classroom, lab, museum, book, or computer is to favor the abstract over the real. We contend that all learners need to experience the real in order to be able to think critically about the abstract, let alone contribute to the development of new conceptual constructs. At the same time, however, we assert that field studies and, specifically, the instruction of field courses need to change to become more available, inclusive, and relevant to the rapidly changing world.
We offer the following suggestions to ensure that field experiences contribute to the preparation of future generations of excited and creative biologists, as well as the creation of a more nature-literate society figure 3. Potential solutions for offering field studies at colleges and universities.
Although many of us who lead field courses extol the benefits of teaching outdoors, we need more effective means of conveying the necessity of field studies to others. Analogy may help. Field study is how ecologists, conservationists, and taxonomists hone their craft; it is the opportunity to put acquired information, theories, and skills into practice.
A music student may be immersed in theory and history, listening to the works of others, but it is when she puts fingers to the keyboard, practicing for hours on end, that she perfects the integration of motor skills and emotion that culminates in a stunning performance. Describing such equivalencies between biological field studies and other disciplines that engage in practice-based, transformative education should strengthen understanding and support among academic colleagues. In addition to finding better ways to communicate the values of field study in biology, field instructors must actively participate in creating assessment-based curricula.
Most universities use assessment tools based on course content and skill acquisition to evaluate student learning. Numbers matter. Recent analyses indicate that content and skills are better retained following field experiences than following lab-based exercises Scott et al. That is, feelings and values matter to students. Because tools for assessing affective impacts are less familiar to most bioscientists and often include qualitative elements that are more challenging to analyze and interpret, the development of mixed-measure assessment tools i.
Such measures could also serve to improve student experiences and to identify and rectify inequities in access to field opportunities.
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To meet compliance challenges, we encourage field instructors to join local conversations regarding the regulatory environment at their institutions. Constructive steps include a pushing for risk-management training for instructors and students, b advocating for training to avoid sexual harassment and cultural intolerance, and c placing field course instructors on IACUCs, where they can help educate colleagues about the nature of field studies. These efforts will require time and energy that most of us would prefer to spend in the field, but these actions are essential to the larger goal of promoting field instruction in biology.
At the same time, educational institutions need to be more proactive in offering solutions to regulatory challenges. Institutions would make huge strides by providing risk-management training that enables, rather than obstructs, field studies. Toward this end, we have compiled a manual of relevant protocols based on adventure education programs that include extended student exposure to field conditions Pace et al. Academic reward systems should also be modified to create incentives for teaching field-based courses, beginning with recognition of the often-extensive instructor effort required to organize and run such classes.
At the same time, curricular budgets should explicitly include a mixture of classroom, laboratory, and field experiences, thereby reducing perceived financial constraints on offering field courses.
Finally, curricula could be revised to require that all students engage in field learning. Geology and archeology programs, which typically require a summer field camp, offer one potential model for such curricular changes. To help set these changes in motion, we challenge all biology faculty to teach or coteach at least one field course during their academic career, similar to the expectation at many institutions that faculty rotate through the teaching of introductory biology or other foundational courses. Furthermore, we suggest that junior faculty with field-oriented research programs be granted a term to develop or revamp a field course, thereby strengthening ties between teaching efforts and the research methods, questions, and study systems with which they are most familiar.
Similarly, midlevel and senior faculty could be provided with teaching release or leave time to develop new field-based courses that build on their research expertise and provide opportunities to mentor less-experienced colleagues in field-based instruction. Post-tenure faculty are better positioned to play a role in institutional conversations regarding regulations, risk management, and training needs, thereby helping to pave the way for junior faculty who wish to offer field courses.
At the campus level, we suggest institutions create distinguished teaching awards specifically for faculty who offer courses that include field-based instruction. Similarly, we urge professional societies to establish awards that recognize creative and innovative efforts to engage students in field studies. As examples, the development of the Journal of Natural History Education and Experience , the establishment of the Ecological Society of America's student natural-history awards, and the inclusion of a field-natural-history column in Ecology are positive steps toward professional validation of field study.
Opportunities for discovery and learning exist wherever an individual's attention is captured by nature Dijkstra The use of urban neighborhoods, farms, zoos, or botanical gardens for field-based instruction offers several benefits. On a more practical level, urban field experiences may often be the only option. The concept of course-based undergraduate research experiences speaks to the feasibility and value of integrating the urban field into large classroom settings Corwin et al. For example, establishing a series of long-term observational and experimental plots on or near campus may facilitate field-research opportunities for hundreds of students while creating long-term data sets that can be used to enrich classroom teaching and connect students more directly to their urban backyards Mauchline et al.
Expanding the field to include the entire urban—wilderness continuum should facilitate concept-based field courses that examine a wide range of biological topics and that allow the exploration of numerous emergent human—environment themes, such as urban geomorphology Thornbush , biophilic design Hartig and Kahn , trophic rewilding Svenning et al.
One of the most powerful experiences a student can have is the transformational moment when an instructor's passion for the natural world becomes their own. These pivotal events are invitational in that an experienced individual with a deep sense of place invites a newcomer to adopt that same landscape. A field instructor plays multiple roles: natural historian, observer, experimentalist, theoretician, translator, teacher, mentor, and risk manager.
The challenge is to fulfill these roles while extending a broad invitation to students. Topics that entice some students may be distasteful to others.
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Even the language used to name a place may influence the breadth of the invitation if it evokes a particular cultural history that is not shared by all students Savoy Therefore, to increase participation in field experiences, instructors must ensure that their invitations to students are as inclusive as possible. Contemporary field biologists stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants, including Darwin, Wallace, Leopold, MacArthur, Wilson, and Paine.
Making field biology an invitational experience for all students requires attention to who teaches field courses and how they are taught; both are critical to translating the ideas of these consummate but primarily white male scientists into experiences that are of interest to a wide range of students. Field educators, even as they effectively share passion, knowledge, and their approach to learning, need to be receptive to change and to new strategies for broadening and deepening participation in field science.
For students with little experience of the theory or reality of nature, building initial exposures around issues that are directly relevant to their culture and worldview can increase interest and motivation Barnett et al. Efforts to recast traditional academic perspectives through other geographic and cultural lenses have the potential to pay huge dividends in terms of increasing undergraduate interest in and commitment to field study and its many benefits Mogk and Goodwin , Robertson et al.
This article derives from a collaborative working group, convened as part of US National Science Foundation award no. We thank Kelly Zamudio for valuable insights during the preliminary phase of this project and the four anonymous reviewers whose insightful critiques contributed to this article's clarity. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.