Building hands-on field skills is a critical element of Trent’s Environmental & Resource Science/ Studies program and something that Dr. Shaun Watmough, director of the Trent School of the Environment, was committed to maintaining in fall 2020, when he re-designed his Ecological Assessment for Natural Resource Management course (ERSC 2240H) for online and remote delivery.
“I wanted to make sure I could still get my students doing something that compliments the skills they learn when the course is in person,” shares Professor Watmough. “The course is all about teaching students good field skills, report and lab writing, and basic data analysis, so I decided to provide students with a dataset, and created five labs that developed and refined their skills over the course of the term.”
Each lab encouraged students to get outside and explore their own environment, collecting data as well as photographs – something that Prof. Watmough introduced for this year as a way to facilitate engagement with the natural environment. Students in the course appreciated the opportunity to take their learning outside in this different year.
An opportunity to explore
“The fieldwork carried out throughout this course allowed us to stretch our legs after a long day or week of remote lectures,” shares Justin Lockhart, a fourth-year Environmental Geoscience student and member of Traill College. “It was straightforward yet highly pertinent to the lecture material, providing us with a firsthand glimpse into fieldwork regarding forestry, precipitation chemistry and benthic invertebrate studies.”
Due to the changes in course delivery, a unique opportunity for students to create data sets compiled from a variety of environmental settings based on where they live, was created.
“In one of the labs, students went out to a woodland near where they lived and measured the number of different plant species that they saw,” explains Prof. Watmough. “The data was compiled into a class data set and the difference in diversity [richness] between coniferous and deciduous forests was very clear – we wouldn’t have been able to do that in a normal year if we had been studying in the same place.”
Preparation key to student success
In preparing his course for online delivery, Prof. Watmough added additional resources to support students in their learning, including creating a series of short video tutorials on how to use various software tools. These tutorials, which would normally have been delivered as a one-time lecture, were so popular that Prof. Watmough plans to keep them for future courses.
“Prof. Watmough strived to ensure that our study of natural resources was intertwined with real-world research and case studies,” says Mr. Lockhart. “He was always willing to clarify lecture and lab material and ensured that we would leave the course with a greater appreciation and a variety of skills for assessing natural resources.”
Learn more about the Trent School of Environment. Applications are still open for fall 2021.