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Teaching Conservation Biology Online

January 16, 2013

Today’s post is on a slightly different-than-usual topic, so forgive me if it seems like I’m straying here. This morning, as I’m updating my syllabus for the coming semester, I was musing over the paradox of teaching conservation biology in an online setting. Sitting in front of our computers while working (whether as a professor or as a student) doesn’t quite sync with our subject matter (in this case, a graduate-level conservation ecology course) — and, in fact, might be part of the conservation problems we’re facing. After all, screen-time is increasing rapidly while outdoor time continues to decline, and you can’t love (and therefore want to protect) what you don’t know. The author Richard Louv has written about this extensively, both about children (Last Child in the Woods) and adults (The Nature Principle), and I’ve written about his work before. Not only does nature suffer, but we do, too — both physically and mentally.

I do believe that graduate-level online education is a direction my field needs to take. One of the greatest advantages of it is our ability to reach students across a broad geographic area, both nationally and internationally. It’s much easier and more viable for many students to stay in place and advance their education than to move to a traditional campus, so we can reach a more diverse audience. At the same time, however, we lose the ability to take our students out on field trips, and perhaps even in-person full field courses. Of course, all of my current students are in a graduate program, so the “nature bug” has already bitten them. But that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be served by an education that takes place — at least somewhat — outdoors.

So, how to resolve this paradox? I’m not sure yet. But something I’ll be thinking about as the semester goes forward. 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2013 6:42 pm

    You will have to make a course requirement that the student do all of their on-line work near a window or on a porch for inspiration!

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